The Palermo Protocol, signed in 2001 and later ratified by many countries throughout the world, defined human trafficking:

“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 means above have been used.

Trafficking in human beings was incorrectly associated with forced sex work and women and children for many years. 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, including forced pornography, organ harvesting, and forced labour in 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. Thus, the different social, political, economic, family and cultural elements that need to be recognised.

There are multiple push factors: 

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

It is worth remembering that vulnerable people are only vulnerable to being trafficked because profit globally remains a driving factor. Therefore, there is a market that, both directly and indirectly, creates and supports the 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 an individual’s human rights. Human trafficking always includes deception and exploitation. It is using a person for 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 Southern Europe is in control of all the intermediaries and brokers and gives all the instructions and orders.

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. It also requires knowledge of how the networks are operating, which necessitates extensive human resources within the police and willingness from a political aspect.

Very few trafficked persons want to witness against their traffickers, which might give the police concrete information to use in their investigations. Still, nobody dares to do so since there is no witness protection offered to trafficked persons witnessing against their traffickers. Also, they have to consider the safety of their families. 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. Globally, human trafficking 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 was higher than the number of identified trafficked women.

The men are often trafficked into forced labour, and this form of exploitation is the most common in 2018. Physically demanding work is at the 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.

The African men are most often trafficked to sell drugs or other forms of organised crime. More victims from Morocco have been identified – often, young boys under the age of 18 are exploited and used for different criminal activities. The increased number of identified trafficked men is probably also because the authorities – including the Tax Department, the Labor Inspectorate and unions – are becoming wiser about forced labour.

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, primarily African men selling drugs. The observations made by HopeNow also indicate a growing number of foreign women in prostitution in Denmark.

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

According to the Center against Human Trafficking, the largest single group 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 many 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.

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, housing arrangements and the people they are forced to be with. As a result, trafficked people in Denmark are coerced into activities that can be criminalized, such as working without a work permit or drug dealing.

Different factors prevent trafficked people from asking for help from the police. 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 protect the person coming forth, the traffickers might hurt their families back home.

The relationship between a trafficked person and their trafficker is not simply black and white to further complicate things. The traffickers have some responsibility for the well-being of the trafficked person. They are bound together by a spiritual oath (ju-ju) in many cases.

Deep trauma involved makes it difficult for a person to tell their story, especially to an authority such as the police. In addition, people are often not fully aware of how exploited they are. Shame is another powerful silencer.

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

HopeNow does outreach work on the streets, prisons, asylum centres, churches etc. In addition, HopeNow is a well-known name in the African network. 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 prison to have them legally identified as trafficked to be released from jail. Before these interviews, HopeNow has often already contacted the persons during our outreach work. Also, therapeutic support is offered to them in prison.

For persons with an illegal stay in Denmark, it is the Immigration service that makes the final decision whether a person is recognised as being a victim of human trafficking. 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 (in contrast to ordinary deportation, where a person is sent out of Denmark without any help or support whatsoever). The support is given for six months. 

The social help comprises help to pay house rent and maybe accommodation in a safe-house if needed, help to get training or get a small business started, medical support if required, support for children if that is the case and a small amount for pocket money/the most vital needs. After six months, the support stops.

This is the prospect for trafficked persons in Denmark. In Denmark, you are a recognised victim of human trafficking doesn’t give access to a residence permit. According to the EU convention, it is possible to give trafficked persons a residence permit, but the Danish state is not applying this possibility.

Very few trafficked persons accept the offer of a prepared return, and when the deportation takes place, they disappear. They stay illegally in Denmark or somewhere else in Europe. This very vulnerable and exposed position creates a significant risk that the person will continue to be trafficked or 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 participate in their life situation with help to self-help and empowerment.

Our efforts are thus based on an understanding of meeting the individual where they are when the contact is established. HopeNow’s work caters to various needs and generally spans a wide range of different activities.
Regarding the terminology for dealing with the complexities of trafficking, HopeNow is required to use the phrase ‘victim of trafficking 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 uses 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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