Limiting access to international protection puts people at risk of trafficking: UN expert

Geneva, 28 June, 2023.- Displacement, internally or across borders, and statelessness heighten risks of trafficking in persons, a UN expert said today, urging States to prevent trafficking and ensure effective protection of victims.

“Limiting access to asylum and other forms of international protection is likely to increase the risks of trafficking in persons, by forcing people into risky, precarious situations,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Siobhán Mullally, in a report presented to the Human Right Council today.

Mullally was particularly concerned about the adoption of legislation and policy by States to prevent trafficking in persons, which fail to comply with international law.

“The increasing use of accelerated refugee status determination procedures, transfer of refugee status determination procedures to third countries, and the phenomenon of ‘push-backs’ following interceptions at sea or land borders, undermine States’ ability to comply with their obligations to identify, assist and protect victims of trafficking, and to respect the principle of non-refoulement,” the expert said.

She recalled that States have obligations to identify and protect victims of trafficking or persons at risk of trafficking also in the context of interceptions at sea, and in the context of duties to rescue persons in distress at sea.

“Expanding safe, regular migration opportunities, and providing resettlement opportunities and other complementary pathways for the admission of persons with international protection needs, as well as effective access to asylum and international protection, are essential to prevent trafficking and ensure protection of victims,” she said.

Mullally noted that States hosting the highest numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons have limited capacity to assist and protect trafficked persons or to prevent trafficking.

“Where the rights of refugees to freedom of movement, to decent work and to access education or training are limited, the risks of exploitation increase,” she said.

“Stateless persons are exposed to increased risks of trafficking linked to their precarious legal status as persons deprived of their right to a nationality, and consequential violations resulting from limited access to civil documentation, education, employment, social protection, and restrictions on freedom of movement,” the UN expert said.

She raised the risks of trafficking faced by unaccompanied and separated children.

“I am concerned that adolescent refugee children are often not given equal protection by States,” Mullally said. “States have an obligation to respect and ensure the rights of all children without discrimination.”

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