Human Trafficking: EU’s Challenges

The EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator (EU ATC) Dr. Myria Vassiliadou, thanked Mgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo and Professor Margaret Archer for the invitation to this important event, which places victims at the core. The comprehensive EU legal and policy framework[1] to address trafficking in human beings (THB) was recalled, which is human rights centred, gender specific and child sensitive and equally focussed on protection, prosecution, and prevention.

Reference was made to the work carried out in the past years, mentioning relevant deliverables of the EU Strategy towards the eradication of THB 2012-2016, and key outcomes of the Reports published by the Commission as required by the Directive.[2] In this context, amongst other things, it was recalled that 65% of the victims registered in the EU are EU nationals; THB has a strong gender dimension,[3] with reported prevalence of THB for the purpose of sexual exploitation and victims being mainly women and girls; 15% of the registered victims in the EU are children.[4] The EU ATC further mentioned, as an example, that IOM reports[5] identifying a 600% increase since 2014 in the number of women and girls trafficked to the EU through the Central Mediterranean route for the purpose of sexual exploitation, predominantly from Nigeria (80% of the 11,000 arrived from Nigeria in 2016).

The EU ATC stressed that ensuring victims can access the rights they are entitled to is key. To do so, enhanced cooperation of all actors at all levels is needed, to ensure all victims are identified and can access gender-specific and child-sensitive assistance and protection. While highlighting the link with smuggling of migrants, amongst other crimes, EU ATC stressed the need to ensure conceptual clarity as per the differences, as these have significant implications for the rights of the victims and the obligations of the Member States. In this context, the EU ATC further recalled that THB is not a migration-related phenomenon per se, but a crime driven by the demand for all forms of exploitation and by huge financial profits. Further, the EU ATC underlined the need to refrain from using terms that have no clear legal definition or qualification, as strong legal grounds are needed to address the crime. Reference was also made to the responsibility of those who produce, use and quote data, as reliable and comparable statistical data on THB are crucial.

The EU ATC recalled the role of the EU in promoting global partnerships to address THB. Significant funding[6] continues to be allocated to projects that contribute addressing THB, in the EU and beyond. It was also mentioned that the Commission committed to align its development cooperation to the Agenda 2030, which includes THB in three targets: 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2. With respect to this, reference was made to the need to ensure equal focus on all of them, as there is no hierarchy of SDGs.

EU ATC stressed that ensuring that victims are treated as rights holders is crucial, but the ultimate goal must remain eradicating the crime, as everything else comes too late for the victims. In this respect, the need to enhance prevention was stressed, bringing perpetrators to justice, following the money, the profits that trafficking generates to legal and illegal activities in licit and illicit businesses, and further untangling the trafficking chain, countering the culture of impunity. To this end the Anti-trafficking Directive requires Member States to discourage demand, including by considering establishing as a criminal offence the use of services which are the objects of exploitation, with the knowledge that the person is a victim of trafficking.[7]

The EU ATC concluded referring to the ongoing work of the Commission on monitoring the transposition[8] and implementation of the Anti-trafficking Directive, and to the forthcoming adoption of an instrument to follow up to the EU Strategy 2012-2016.


[1] The Anti-trafficking Directive and the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016. As a complex crime, THB is also addressed in other key EU policy instruments, ranging from security to migration, justice, equality, anti-discrimination, fundamental rights, employment, and development, amongst others.
[2] EU anti-trafficking action 2012-2016 at a glance provides an overview of the work carried out on the basis of the EU comprehensive legal and policy framework to address trafficking in human beings.
[3] Study on the Gender dimension of THB
[4] Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2016) as required under Article 20 of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Further information concerning child trafficking is available in the Study on High risk groups for THB.
[6] Further information has been published in the Comprehensive policy review of EU funded Anti-trafficking project, published as a deliverable of the EU Strategy to ensure transparency and accountability.
[7] Findings of the Users report were mentioned, highlighting that the different legal approaches in the EU Member States fail to effectively contribute to discouraging the demand of services of victims of trafficking. The Commission is drawing important conclusions on this and will further examine potential options to consider in the future.
[8] All EU Member states bound by the Directive notified full transposition, further details are available in the Transposition report.




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