The Challenge of Human Trafficking

At the end of July 2014 a group of six people appeared in court in Beja, a city in the south of Portugal, charged with human trafficking. They had recruited 30 workers in Romania to labour in farms in the Alentejo region. The workers were asked to pay 70 euros for accommodation and 150 euros for the journey. In exchange they were promised remunerated working opportunities. However, when they arrived in Portugal the promises turned to dust. They were not paid for the first days of work with the excuse of a period of probation, but the real reason was to prevent them from running away. While they were being exploited by the defendants, none of the workers received more than 25 euros.

The concept of trafficking in human beings or human trafficking involves three key features: the activity, the means and the purpose. The activity consists in the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harbouring of persons. The means used are the threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or the use of force. The final purpose is to exploit the trafficked persons.

For people who need to overcome a difficult situation, such as poverty, unemployment or lack of social integration, it is easy to find the traffickers’ promises a great opportunity for better life prospects. However, they end up being exploited. There are various forms of exploitation: forced labour, begging, slavery, sexual exploitation or the removal of organs.

According to data from the 2013’s edition of the Eurostat trafficking in human beings report, in 2010, 66% of the victims of human trafficking identified in the EU had been sexually exploited, while 23% had been victims of forced labour and 11% had experienced other forms of exploitation. 

Most victims from EU countries

The majority of victims of human trafficking identified in the EU are nationals of EU member states. In the period 2008–2010, 61% of the victims were from EU countries. Romania was in 2010 the EU country of origin with most victims: 1,885. Bulgaria, France, Germany and Spain were the other countries in the top five. In total in 2010 3,316 victims coming from EU member states were identified. These figures emphasise the importance of cooperation among the law enforcement authorities of EU countries in order to reduce this criminal activity.


Source: Eurostat trafficking in human beings report 

The victims with non-EU citizenship are from a more diverse range of countries. But the countries with most identified victims were Nigeria, China, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Russia. In 2010 2,468 victims of human trafficking who were not citizens of an EU country were identified in the EU. Dealing with victims of human trafficking coming from countries such as Nigeria is a cultural challenge. Some of them took part in voodoo rituals and believe that something terrible may happen to them or their families, if they do not abide by what they agreed with the traffickers.


Source: Eurostat trafficking in human beings report

A European approach

Although the main responsibility to tackle human trafficking remains with the member states, the Council and the European Parliament approved the Directive 2011/36/EU  on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. The aim of the directive is to clarify which actions must be punishable by law, establish maximum penalties and ensure that the victims of human trafficking are not prosecuted for the criminal activities they committed while being exploited. The member states may judge crimes of trafficking in human beings when the offence is committed in their territory or when the person to be judged is a national of the country.

The European Commission also released a communication regarding the EU strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings for the period 2012–2016. It establishes five priorities: identify, protect and assist victims of trafficking; focus on the prevention of human trafficking; increase the prosecution of traffickers; improve the coordination and cooperation among actors working in the field; and be up-to-date and react effectively to the new methods followed by traffickers.

In order to prevent a crime that crosses borders it is important to focus on European and international cooperation. Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, has a significant role to play as a supporter of national officials, since it assists in the exchange of information, provides operational support and gives access to criminal databases. It is also important to develop awareness campaigns not only in the countries of origin of victims, but also in the countries where they are exploited. If there is a decrease in demand, there will be less victims of human trafficking. 

Edited by: Andreea Anastasiu