The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published a report analysing the major reasons behind human trafficking, linking it to climate-related crises.
The report registers a decrease in 2020 in the number of victims detected globally. This is explained by the pandemic-related restrictions on movement, which temporarily reduced some forms of trafficking, such as cross-border trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“The global showdown in the number of convictions for trafficking in persons—decreasing since 2017—further accelerated during the pandemic, falling in 2020 by an alarming 27 per cent over the previous year,” says the report.
However, the decrease in detected victims has largely been identified in low- and middle-income countries that struggled to cope with the pandemic and its outcome.
The report further hypothesises that Covid-19 restrictions may have driven some forms of trafficking to more hidden locations, therefore increasing the dangers to victims and making it less likely for the authorities to detect and protect the victims.
According to UNODC, “there is little evidence to suggest that the threat of this crime has diminished with the drop in detected victims, and many reasons to fear that Covid-19, crises, conflicts, and the climate emergency are escalating trafficking risks.”
Based on data collected from 141 countries over the 2017-2020 period, the study shows that conflicts and the climate change crisis are multiplying trafficking risks, as these victims become an easy target for traffickers. For instance, 23.7 million people were internally displaced by climate change disasters, while many others have crossed borders.
The report sheds light on examples of trafficking for forced labour in the South Caucasus. It shows that victims were forced to live in inhumane living conditions, and they were mentally and physically abused.
“The men were also deprived of adequate food, and many lost significant weight. Also, they had no access to health care and some developed untreatable illnesses. The traffickers did not pay them for their work for several months and most victims were exploited for periods of six months or longer,” said the report.
The report also highlights the fact that women and girls are three times more likely to be subjected to extreme violence during trafficking compared to boys and men, and children are two times more likely to suffer violence than adults.