Human traffickers are using the dire situation at migrant reception centers across southern Europe to attract migrants into forced labor and transport their victims undetected. Migrants waiting for their asylum applications to be processed are stranded at borders in Greece and Italy and are often subject to traffickers. A lack of accommodation, limited funding and insufficient support services, and overstretched staff at reception centers means trafficking victims are slipping through the net, the OSCE said.
Campaigners say that traffickers and smugglers are capitalizing on the situation as countries are struggling to absorb the influx. Italy has for example introduced laws to tackle the exploitation of workers in its agriculture industry amid reports of migrants being taken from reception centers and being forced to work. “The focus is on responding to humanitarian needs – trying to feed, shelter and register migrants at chaotic hotspots,” said Claudio Formisano of the OSCE’s anti-trafficking office. “Human trafficking is not on the radar … or it is not a priority,” he told the media.
European authorities are focused on tackling smuggling rather than human trafficking, which has caused many migrants to have been penalized for immigration offences or being smuggled while trafficking victims go unpunished. Smuggling and trafficking are often interconnected, but an important difference is that traffickers cheat people to exploit them, from forced labor to sex work. “The presence of unidentified and unprotected victims of human trafficking allows criminal activities to flourish … and so potentially turning a humanitarian emergency into a security crisis,” the OSCE report said.
OSCE is specifically targeting the issue under its project “Combatting Human Trafficking along Migration Routes”, which is designed to enhance the ability of interested participating states and partners to effectively investigate and prosecute human trafficking to promptly identify victim of trafficking in human beings.