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The Palermo protocol signed in 2001 and later ratified by many countries throughout the world defined human trafficking in the following way:

Recruiting, transporting or transferring a person, concealing a person or receiving a person through threats or any form of coercion, abduction, fraud or abuse of power or the exploitation of a vulnerable position or granting or receiving payment or benefits to obtain the consent of a person, who has authority over another person for the purpose of exploiting that person. It is irrelevant whether the trader has consented to the exploitation, if any of the aforementioned means have been used.

Trafficking in human beings was for many years incorrectly only associated with forced sex work and women and children. The first Danish action plan in 2003 for example focused exclusively on women and children. However, human trafficking includes multiple forms of exploitation of people and this fact has also now been recognized and included in the Danish Action plans since 2016.

Globally people are trafficked and exploited for example into begging, social fraud, domestic servitude, sex work which includes forced pornography, organ harvesting and forced labor into mining, fishing and construction industries.

The UN describes human trafficking as the fastest growing area of organized crime and has remained despite all efforts a high profit low risk criminal enterprise.

Human trafficking relies on vulnerability.

People can be made vulnerable in many different ways depending on where they come from in the world, so there can be very different social, political, economic, family and cultural elements, which need to be recognised.

There are multiple so called push factors of which we can name a few:

  • War
  • Poverty
  • Corruption
  • Lack of education
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of access to health care
  • Gender violence
  • Global warming and natural disasters, which causes displacement of millions
  • The dream of a better life

It is worth remembering that vulnerable people are only vulnerable to be trafficked because profit globally remains a driving factor, and there is therefore a market, which both directly and indirectly creates and supports exploitation of human beings.

Human smuggling is aiding, organising or facilitating the illegal transport of one or more persons across a state border. Human smuggling is a violation of state law. When persons are smuggled they have agreed on a price with the smuggler(s), and on arrival there is no debt.

Human trafficking is a violation of the individuals human rights. Human trafficking always includes deception and exploitation. It is using a person to somebody’s financial benefit. In contrast to human smuggling, which is a one time event, human trafficking includes a long term dependency and slavery and a dept to pay back.

Human trafficking usually involves a global criminal network with members placed in strategic locations – some are responsible for recruitment, some for transportation, transit locations, pickup in the country of arrival, accommodation, money transfers etc. Most often one madam living in Nigeria or in Southern Europe is in control of all the middlemen and brokers and gives all the instructions and orders.

As mentioned above, human trafficking involves a global criminal network with contact people in different strategic locations. It requires a concentrated and coordinated, yet long term effort to tackle every part of such a network. It requires extended cooperation between the police forces in all countries and knowledge of how the networks are operating – which all means a lot of human resources within the police and therefore willingness from a political aspect too. Very, very few trafficked persons want to witness against their traffickers, which might give the police concrete information to use in their investigations, but since there is no witness protection offered to trafficked persons witnessing against their traffickers, nobody dares to do so. Also they have to take the safety of their families into consideration. If the traffickers can’t punish ‘their property’, they go after the families.

UN estimates that more than 700.000 men, women and children are victims of trafficking worldwide each year. As in Denmark human trafficking globally includes multiple forms.

It is almost impossible to put precise figures on the scale of the problem, as human trafficking is most often hidden.

The Danish police estimate that around 2.500 foreign women work in the Danish sex industry, and the number of women being trafficked to Demark has been growing since 2002. From 2007 to 2018, 827 persons have been identified according to the Center against Human Trafficking.

In 2018 for the first time the number of identified trafficked men is higher than the number of identified trafficked women. Most often the men are trafficked into forced labour, and this form of exploitation is the most common in 2018. Physically hard work is at the very top – among other forms in the transport industry. Most of the victims come from the Philippines, and this is the first time that Nigerian victims are outnumbered by another nationality. More victims from Morocco have been identified – often young boys under the age of 18 are exploited and used for different criminal activities. The increase in the number of identified trafficked men is probably also due to the fact that the authorities – including SKAT, the Labor Inspectorate and unions – are becoming more wise to forced labour. The African men are most often trafficked to sell drugs or other forms of organised crime.

The observations made by HopeNow also indicate an increasing number of foreign women in prostitution in Denmark. The majority of the African women have been trafficked at one time or another. Also HopeNow has identified an increasing number of trafficked men, in recent years mostly African men selling drugs.

People of all genders are trafficked, and as mentioned before not just for prostitution. Trafficked persons in Denmark typically come from Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. HopeNow’s target group is both documented and undocumented men and women, mainly from different African countries.

The largest single group, according to the Center against Human Trafficking, are women from Nigeria who have been trafficked into prostitution. Nigerians constitute one of the largest groups of trafficking victims located in Europe and the rest of Africa (Source: UNESCO 2006 ‘Human Trafficking in Nigeria Root Causes and Recommendations’, p. 16). In particular, we see a large number of foreign women in brothels, in escort services and on the Copenhagen streets. HopeNow has also met women who have been locked up inside apartments or located in isolated houses in the countryside.

There are different factors that prevent trafficked people from asking for help from the police. Trafficked persons are put under enormous pressure from their traffickers to earn money. Many aspects of their lives here in Denmark are under the control of the trafficking network, ranging from the type of work they are forced to do, to their accommodation and the people they see. As a result trafficked people in Denmark are involved in activities that can be criminalized, such as working without a work permit or drug dealing. Worried about being put into jail they’d often rather avoid the police.

Fears around punishment and revenge from the trafficking network also come into play. Even if the police could give protection to the person coming forth, the traffickers might hurt their family back home.

To further complicate things the relationship between a trafficked person and their trafficker is not simply black and white. The traffickers have some responsibility for the well-being of the trafficked person, and in many cases they are bound together by a spiritual oath (ju-ju). In addition people are oftentimes not fully aware of just how exploited they are. There is also a lot of trauma involved that makes it difficult for a person to tell their story, especially to an authority such as the police. Shame is another powerful silencer.

Last but not least, going to the police will frequently result in a deportation back home. In Denmark trafficked persons will not be given a residence permit, because they are trafficked, and they are not offered witness protection if they are willing to testify against their traffickers.

Specifically HopeNow does outreach work on the streets, in prisons, asylum centers, churches etc. In addition, HopeNow is a well-known name in the African network and we find that more and more people are contacting us for support from having been referred to us by other persons in the African diaspora. We have been working closely with the Red Cross since 2007, which is why we meet and identify many trafficking victims in the asylum system. HopeNow often gets in contact with trafficked persons after a police raid on the streets. The arrested persons themselves contact HopeNow, or HopeNow is contacted by somebody else in the African diaspora – it might even be from the trafficking network, since they are now concerned that they can’t make money on the person. HopeNow supports the arrested persons by interviewing them in the prison to have them legally identified as trafficked, so they can be released from prison. Prior to these interviews HopeNow has often already been in contact with the persons during our outreach work. Also therapeutic support is offered to them in prison.

For persons with illegal stay in Denmark, it is the Immigration service which makes the final decision whether a person is recognised as being a victim of human trafficking or not. A decision about human trafficking triggers an extended departure from Denmark and an offer of a prepared return to the home country. A prepared return means that the person is deported with financial and social support (as a contrast to an ordinary deportation, where a person is sent out of Denmark without any help or support whatsoever). The support is given for 6 months. It contains help to pay house rent and maybe accommodation in a safe-house if needed, help to get training or to get a small business started, medical support if needed, support for children if that is the case and a small amount for pocket money/the most vital needs. After 6 months the support stops.

This is the prospect for trafficked persons in Denmark. In Denmark the fact that you are a recognised victim of human trafficking doesn’t give access to a residence permit. It is possible to give trafficked persons a residence permit according to the EU convention, but this possibility is not being applied by the Danish state.

Very few trafficked persons accept the offer of a prepared return, and when the deportation is actually going to take place, they disappear. They stay illegally in Denmark or somewhere else in Europe. This very vulnerable and exposed position creates a great risk, that the person will continue to be trafficked or will be re-trafficked again and again.

HopeNow seeks to focus on what the individual wants. HopeNow works with the target group, based on a psychosocial approach, to strengthen the individual’s opportunity to take an active part in their own life situation with help to self-help – so called empowerment.
Our efforts are thus based on an understanding of meeting the individual where they are at the time the contact is established. HopeNow’s work therefore caters to various needs and generally spans a wide range of different activities.

Regarding the terminology when it comes to dealing with the complexities of trafficking HopeNow is required to use the phrase ‘victim of trafficking’ in order to achieve legal recognition and protection for a trafficked person.

In HopeNow’s daily social work and from a human to human perspective, however, HopeNow use the words ‘trafficked persons/people’ or ‘survivors of trafficking’. People who know about trafficking have experienced that trafficked persons are some of the most resilient and strong people you can come across. Their identity consists of far more than being exploited, and they deserve our utmost respect.

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