People around the world are increasingly on the move and in record numbers. The refugee and migrant crisis has brought this to the forefront of political agendas, charity campaigns and public consciousness. But I see this crisis fast becoming a modern slavery crisis, as traffickers and slave masters prey on migrants’ needs for shelter and employment. The exploitation within migration is rife, both en route and on arrival, and on this International Migrants Day, we must recognise this, respond accordingly and reinforce our efforts.
People fleeing conflict, war and persecution, migrating towards a place of safety and security, are falling victim to ruthless criminals. Many migrants choosing to journey across the Mediterranean have been deceived to believe they are starting a new life of promise and prosperity, only to be exploited and enslaved. Traffickers and slave masters seemingly meet the basic needs of individuals; they offer shelter that comes at a cost and they offer work but will not pay. This modern slavery crisis is not going away and is impacting on millions.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently conducted a survey to measure exactly how exploitation is surfacing in the migrant crisis. Findings revealed that 71% of migrants in Italy responded positively to at least 1 indicator of exploitation, 49% reported being held against their will and 47% were subject to forced labour.
Migrants and refugees need urgent protection and require our undivided attention on this issue. The risks prior, during and after a migrant’s journey to freedom are life-threatening; add to this the risks of trafficking and slavery and we have a recipe for disaster. Unless we boost protection measures, these numbers will only increase. Unless we improve law enforcement responses, these numbers will only increase. Unless we look at prevention projects in source countries, these numbers will only increase. Unless we prioritise safeguarding, these numbers will only increase. The task may seem great, but the cost of inaction is far greater.
The UK has shown remarkable leadership in its response to modern slavery. We need other countries along the migratory route to also increase efforts and resources to combat this cruel crime, so that together we can defeat the criminals and defend the vulnerable. By working across borders, across agencies and across partnerships we will gather ideas, gather expertise and gather intelligence – all essential in the fight against slavery within this European humanitarian crisis.
Exploitation within migration is a growing problem. Criminals are opportunistically using the migrant crisis for their own financial gain, inflicting violence and abuse on the vulnerable. The international community must come together and strive to stop slavery, see freedom & ultimately save lives.