PICUM: Rights-centred approach to combat 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.

Access to Justice

The report details how the current policing methods hinder undocumented migrants accessing justice. Undocumented people are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and labour exploitation given their status and can face many barriers when trying to engage with the criminal justice system due to being undocumented.

The fear of deportation prevents many undocumented people from turning to the criminal justice system. This fear is well-founded with reports that raids and so-called ‘rescue operations’ to identify sex workers result in those victims identified being detained, deported and deprived of their earnings. This reflects the 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.

This lack of legal recourse and fear of the criminal 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.

‘Although trafficked and exploited persons have an established right to
compensation and various compensation mechanisms are in existence, the
actual receipt of a payment by a trafficked or exploited person is very rare.’

PICUM Report

It is key to ensure that there are effective mechanisms in place that allow all victims of labour exploitation to engage in the justice system and obtain justice without the risk of immigration enforcement. Read the full report here.