The increase of trafficking in persons in emergency contexts has been repeatedly demonstrated and detected worldwide. In Nepal, the 2015 earthquake that affected two thirds of the population led to an increase in cases of trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation of girls and women, mainly. In another case, there were Hindu men who became victims of labor exploitation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that affected the United States in 2005. 


Among the main reasons for the increase of vulnerability in emergency and disaster situations are: 


  • Lack of economic opportunities. Affected populations tend to resort to risky survival strategies such as believing in false promises of traffickers. 

  • If not managed properly, the camps or temporary shelters can be contact points for traffickers with their potential victims. 

  • Emergencies may exceed the capabilities of States to protect their citizens, particularly in protracted emergencies, which increases exposure to the risks of human trafficking. 

  • Due to the very nature of this crime and the complexity that typically prevails in an emergency context, many cases remain hidden for a long time. 

In 2008, through Resolution 63/156 on trafficking in women and girls, the UN General Assembly referred for the first time to the need to address the problem of trafficking in emergencies. This text encourages those dealing with disaster and emergency situations to the increase of vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking and exploitation in these contexts. 


Actions to confront trafficking in emergency contexts


Due to the complex environment that follows emergency situations, the issue of human trafficking is often not incorporated as a subject for immediate or necessary attention by governmental and non-governmental interlocutors working on prevention, response and recovery of disasters. 


However, it is essential to protect the rights and dignity of all persons affected by a disaster (including migrants) before, during and after an emergency. 


The fight against trafficking in persons in emergency situations must be understood as a measure of "immediate assistance to save lives". The approach to trafficking must be considered as a priority like any other response to an emergency situation, aimed at guaranteeing the integral protection of vulnerable people, whether nationals or migrants. That is why anti-trafficking activities deserve a place in the integral protection approach that is applied in emergency situations. 


Some key actions to address this crime in emergency contexts are the following: 


  • Conduct education and awareness campaigns on human trafficking for both the exposed or affected population and those working in the prevention, response and recovery to a disaster. 

  • Disseminate tools on how to detect possible cases and to whom to refer such cases. 

  • Execute preventive and non-reactive actions. Anti-trafficking measures must be proactive and protective, so they must be applied immediately when an emergency situation is detected, although the scope or impact of the activities of trafficking networks is unknown. 

  • Inclusive response to recognize the diverse needs of the different human groups that require assistance. 

  • Ensure good coordination and management of camps and temporary accommodation by identifying the risk factors that can lead to human trafficking situations. 

  • Ensure adequate access to food, water, proper lighting in areas regularly used by women and girls, segregation of sanitary facilities, confidentiality of complaints mechanisms in case of abuse, additional surveillance and creation of safe spaces for women and girls, and the separation of the accommodations of orphans and unaccompanied children from the accommodations of adults. 


Human trafficking is an even more threatening risk in disaster situations. Integrating this type of action in the response to emergencies can prevent the exploitation of human beings. 


Author: Francesca Tabellini