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The EU anti-trafficking Directive: where are we today?

In 2013 and 2014, 15,846 people fall victim to the trafficking of human beings in the EU. This data belongs to the European Commission report on trafficking in human beings. In fact, the Commission was strongly invited to evaluate the current EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings as required by the anti-trafficking Directive and to introduce a new one that follows a human-rights-based approach, including a clear gender dimension (see article on Human trafficking: a new European impetus to the fight against it). Thus, this is the first Commission report since the adoption of the anti-trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU). As defined by Recital 27 and Article 19 of this Directive, the report is composed of three main parts: trends in trafficking in human beings, results of specific anti-trafficking actions, and statistics provided by Member States. The report also examines action taken by the Commission and other European stakeholders under the EU strategy for the period 2012-2016. This work was also conceived for helping the Commission to develop a post-2016 strategy on trafficking in human beings.

The report was presented on Thursday 19 May by the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dimitris AVRAMOPOULOS and the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator, Myria VASSILIADOU. These statistics were collected for the period 2013-2014 from different sources, including information provided by National Rapporteurs on equivalent mechanisms (“NREMs”), civil society organisations participating in the EU Civil Society Platform against trafficking in human beings and in the EU Civil Society e-Platfom and, EU agencies, regional and international organisations. However, it is important to underline that these data are based on the number of registered victims in EU Member States. This means that they could not reflect the real situation where the potential number of victims was “likely to be substantially higher that those registered by national authorities”.

After a brief presentation of the context of the trafficking in human beings, the second part of the report focuses on trends and challenges in addressing trafficking in human being in the EU. This section presents a worrying trend: 2500 children are affected by human trafficking out of the 15,846 victims. If the number of children has dramatically increased, the most widespread form of trafficking remains for the purpose of sexual exploitation (67%), followed by labour exploitation (21%) and other forms of exploitation. According to this report, 12% of the total numbers of victims are trafficked in other forms such as for the purpose of forced begging, criminal activity, forced and sham marriage, organ removal, sell of new-born babies and adoption of young children.

The Commission also underlines that more than three quarters of registered victims were women (76%) and it highlights that there has been a growing presence of disabled and Roma people among victims. The most part of registered victims in 2013-2014 came from the European Union, especially from Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland while at the international level, the top five non-EU countries of citizenship were Nigeria, China, Albania, Vietnam and Morocco.

Trafficking in human beings is usually linked to organised crime. In fact, in its second section, the report stresses the links between trade in human being and other forms of crime, such as terrorism and criminal networks of smugglers that exploit the most vulnerable in the context of the “current migration crisis”. “The internet and new technologies enable organised crime groups to access a large pool of potential victims, hide their activities and carry out a wide range of criminal acts in a short period of time and on much larger scale than ever before”, reported the Commission. In fact, many victims of sexual and labour exploitation are recruited online.

In this context, the Commission produced a set of recommendations on addressing the challenge of human trafficking. Firstly, Member States should continue to collect data and improve their data collection system on trafficking in human beings to better monitor the phenomenon. They also should allocate anti-trafficking resources proportionately to the trends in collaboration with other actors that work in the same field. Moreover, as data on trafficking for sexual exploitation has not decreased, “Member States should continue and even intensify efforts to combat” it. Concerning victims of trafficking for labour exploitation, the Commission asks EU countries to help and properly identify them.

As regard to the worrying and increasing trend on child trafficking, the Commission calls for more concerted and coordinated efforts to prevent and address child trafficking, reducing the vulnerability of at-risk children, supporting child victims and ensuring child protection at all level. Furthermore, in the context of migration and asylum, “coordination should be ensured on the ground in the framework of the -hotspots approach- between all different actors” that operate with migrants in order to provide appropriate levels of protection and care to victims of human trafficking. As for online recruitment, the Commission underlines the need for measures to prevent and address the use of new technologies as a tool for recruiting victims of trafficking in human beings.

Moreover, Member States are called to step up efforts to investigate the crime, prosecute perpetrators and identify potential victims. The third part of the report, focusing on results of action to address trafficking in human beings, underlines that EU countries encounter considerable difficulties in measuring the results and impact of their anti-trafficking actions. This section mainly focuses on the progress made on the implementation of “the 3 Ps” against human trafficking: prosecution, protection and prevention.

Concerning “the first P”, one of the key priorities of the EU legal and policy framework is increasing the number of investigation and prosecutions on trafficking in human beings. In fact, as reported by Member States, the level of prosecution and conviction remains low as they do no use enough effective investigate tools. Moreover, an excessive burden is placed on victims before and during criminal proceeding, where they may be subject to intimidation and secondary victimisation as they are not well welcomed and supported in reception facilities. On the other side, joint investigations and an increasing cross-EU cooperation seem to be yielding positive results in the field of persecution.

In this framework, the Commission recommends Member States “to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions, and to reduce the burden placed on victims and their testimonies during proceedings for evidence gathering”. To this end, investigators, prosecutors and judges need a specific training and financial investigations, as recommended by the Financial Task Force, have to be systematically used. Moreover, EU countries should dedicate sufficient financial and human resources to properly address this crime.

As for the implementation of “the second P”, focusing on identification, protection and assistance of victims of human trafficking, a more concrete and efficient Member States’ action is still necessary. The referral rate of identified victims remains low. Thus, many victims of human trafficking are not identified and so they cannot enjoy their rights. “Gender and age-specific assistance are still inadequate”, highlights the Commission report, as shelters and accommodation are not always equipped to cater for victims’ needs. Concerning child victims, even if Member States report on child-sensitive measures, the number of identified children remains low and measures for finding durable solutions inadequate.

The Commission report underlines that “victims must be considered primarily as rights holders, and they must be able to understand and exercise their rights.” Thus, all appropriate measures should be taken at national level to ensure the identification, assistance, protection and reintegration of victims of trafficking, setting up a national Referral Mechanism to coordinate the actors involved in this action. Such mechanism should be monitored and evaluated regularly. Transnational cooperation, including transnational referral mechanism, should be promoted to help victims who are trafficked outside their country of origin. For child victims, child protection should be ensured, implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Commission also highlights that the Schengen Information System could be used to create a missing children alert ensuring the early identification of child victims.

Finally, concerning “the third P” on prevention, Member States reported extensive action on prevention measures (in line with Article 18 of the anti-trafficking Directive). In fact, as recalled by the Commission report, “eradication of trafficking in human beings can only be achieved if the crime is prevented from happening in the first place by using all available tools at EU and national level.” This first means that those who profit from the crime and exploit the victims should be brought to justice. Detection of cases of trafficking in human beings has increased after a training of the frontline staff. However, information reported also addresses the ad-hoc nature of training activities, the lack of specialised training and a gender-specific and child-centred approach. Moreover, EU countries stress the pivotal role played by the private sector in preventing trafficking in human beings.

In this context, the Commission expresses the need for strong safeguards ensuring that the victims are not penalised in the place of those who exploit them. To this effect, it is fundamental to take some measures to ensure the reduction of demand that fosters all forms of exploitation. The Commission also underlines the limited resources available for anti-trafficking measures and victims’ prevention and assistance at national level. Thus, the report calls on sufficient budgetary allocation to effectively address human trafficking in cooperation with civil society, such as NGOs. Moreover, Member States should use EU funds and implement cost-effective national measures to achieve tangible results.

In conclusion, according to the Commission, the adoption of the anti-trafficking Directive and its implementation at national level has helped to raise awareness on the scale of the phenomenon of human trafficking across the EU, and the need to address it with the help of tools relating to prevention, protection and prosecution. The Commission also expressed its will to “continue working on a coordinated and consistent response to trafficking in human beings.” The report closes with the Commission promise of publishing the two further reports required under article 23 of the anti-trafficking Directive on compliance and criminalisation, together with a post-2016 Strategy on trafficking in human beings.

Hoping that this time delays will be avoided, this concrete action of the Commission will show a strong European commitment against trafficking in human beings. In the meanwhile, on the same day of the publication of the Commission report, the EU announced an European contribution to fight against gendered-based violence including human trafficking. In fact, on 19 May, in Copenhagen, took place the “Women Deliver” Conference, one of the world’s largest events on women and girls’ rights, health and well-being. On this occasion, Commissioner Neven MIMICA announced €19 million euro support to gender-driven international projects. This maybe represents just a little drop in the sea of human trafficking, but step by step, implementation after implementation, action after action, a concrete answer to the fight against human trafficking will be provided. Because there is a need for answers and victims cannot way anymore.

Adele Cornaglia

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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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