UN states that climate breakdown is driving up human trafficking

Flooded street in Manila, Philippines, following floods in 2012
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Evidence is emerging that climate-related disasters are becoming a cause of human trafficking as criminal gangs exploit a growing number of uprooted people, the UN said on 24 January.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report that:

Climate change is increasing vulnerability to trafficking.

While a systematic global analysis of the impact of climate change in trafficking in persons is missing, community level studies in different parts of the world point at weather induced disasters as root causes for trafficking in persons.

The report is based on data collected between 2017 and 2020 from 141 countries, and the analysis of 800 court cases.

The collapse of livelihoods

The impact of climate breakdown “disproportionally” affects poor farming, fishing, and other communities, the report said. This is due to their reliance on the extraction of natural resources for their livelihoods. Fabrizio Sarrica, the report’s main author, told a press briefing that once “deprived of their means of subsistence and forced to flee their community”, people were becoming easy prey for traffickers.

In 2021 alone, climate-related disasters internally displaced more than 23.7 million people. Many others fled their countries altogether. Because entire regions of the world are at risk of becoming “increasingly uninhabitable” millions will face “high risk of exploitation along migration routes”, the UN report said.

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UNODC observers noted an increase in cases of human trafficking after natural disasters. This took place in Bangladesh and the Philippines after devastating cyclones and typhoons displaced millions, for example. Droughts and floods in Ghana, and hurricanes and rising sea levels in the Caribbean region, also forced many to migrate.

War in Ukraine

UNODC said the continuing war in Ukraine is also another risk factor for increased human trafficking. Most trafficking victims resulted from conflicts originating in Africa and the Middle East. However, a similar situation is also building up in Ukraine as millions flee the war-torn country.

Ilias Chatzis, the head of the human trafficking and migrant smuggling section at UNODC, told Agence France-Presse (AFP):

The challenge is how to deal with human trafficking arising from war and instability,

He added that helping neighbouring countries and increasing support to the Ukrainian authorities is equally important.

The report also said that the Covid-19 pandemic limited the ability to detect cases. This was especially true in low-income countries across Asia, South America and Africa. Faced with the closure of public venues such as bars and clubs due to health restrictions, certain forms of trafficking – in particular sexual exploitation – have been pushed into “less visible and less safe locations”.

Featured image via Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia)/Flickr

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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