European Platform Against Trafficking in Human Beings

About trafficking

News | PICUM: rights-centred approach to tackle human trafficking

PICUM – Platform for international cooperation on undocumented migration – has a new report mapping out a better way to tackle and prevent human trafficking with a particular focus on undocumented migrants.

The report shows that the current framework for tackling human trafficking, i.e. law enforcement and policing, does not work and hinders progress. It calls instead for a human rights-based approach which focuses on protecting people and prosecuting human traffickers.

It calls for regular migration pathways and decent work permit schemes to play a key role in preventing trafficking as well as ensuring access to justice and protection, and increased services for victims of human trafficking.

How the current framework is harmful

The EU's focus on tackling human trafficking is often cited as a reason for increased measures to prevent and sanction irregular migration. However, many of the measures introduced increases the risks of trafficking such as increased border controls resulting in an increased reliance on smugglers and the use of more dangerous routes, or so-called 'rescue operations' on workplaces to identify trafficked persons result in undocumented people being detained and deported.

What we need to tackle human trafficking

Our current labour migration policies do not reflect the labour market needs  - this was highlighted most recently in Italy during the pandemic, a country whose agricultural sector rests on the shoulders of undocumented migrants. Despite this, there are very few legal pathways for migrants to receive work and residence permits. This increases the risk of exploitation with workers being overly dependent on their employment and not able to raise complaints on working confitions.

Access to Justice

The current model reflects a strong practice in Europe of prioritising immigration enforcement over victims’ rights and lack of safeguards for victims which only kneecaps the fight against human trafficking.

The well-founded fear of deportation prevents many undocumented people from turning to the criminal justice system. This inability to access the justice system gives ruthless employers an unfair upper hand and risks the continuation and escalation of exploitative practices. In the cases where victims are able to engage with the justice system, access to compensation is rare despite it being an established right under EU law.

Improve services and support for trafficked persons

It is key that the support for trafficked persons be improved. This means access to information on victims' rights, training of officials and service providers who are likely to come into contact with trafficked persons, right to legal assistance and aid, and increased availability of residence and work permits.

Read the full report and recommendations here.

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