Human trafficking exists in virtually every country in some form or another. The easiest targets tend to be the most vulnerable ones — that could mean vulnerable in their life situation (for example, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that 88% of their endangered runaways are missing from social services), or it could just mean vulnerability at an opportune moment for the trafficker (for example, they hold incriminating photos or video of the victim).
And where are the easiest places to find mass amounts of vulnerable people? Amidst massive humanitarian crises. This could mean natural disasters, violent conflict, or some similar event where you have a massive amount of people, all struggling to get by day after day. They are usually undocumented in some way — they may be registered citizens, but in volatile situations people may not have their identification handy, they may be separated from their group, and they may simply be struggling just to find food or drinkable water. Someone might notice if you don’t come home for a night or two in everyday life, but in situations like these no one is going to notice a missing young girl if no one around knew her to begin with. By the time someone notices, it may be too late.
Hurricane Katrina is a good example of this within the United States. Where people are vulnerable en masse, opportunist traffickers might be on the look-out. This doesn’t necessarily mean shady organized crime syndicates — it could just mean an abusive boyfriend how seizes an opportunity and sells (against her will) his girlfriend out for money or resources. It could mean the abduction and abuse of a child, and then selling that child to others for the same reason. During Katrina, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center believed that approximately 50 of the calls on their line were directly related to labor or sex trafficking cases. That’s only people who thought to directly call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which probably is a fraction of what was really going on. There were also reported incidents of criminal organizations taking advantage of the situation by sending girls down from other states for prostitution, or taking advantage of both adults and children who found themselves homeless from the hurricane and at the mercy of those around them.
This concept stays true internationally — wherever people are more vulnerable, others seek to take advantage. Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and of course ISIS are all terrorist organizations that have notoriously used human trafficking as a means to generate revenue for their operations. This means sex trafficking, but also labor — slave labor is more common than many realize in areas where groups like this thrive.
The Rohingya are currently amassed on the border of Bangladesh and Burma/Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of people are packed into tight refugee camps, which have recently been experiencing devastating floods on top of all the other horrifying issues they have to deal with on a daily basis. And of course, in their state of vulnerability, many have taken advantage. Some have lost their entire families to the violence, or at least been separated from them. They are then picked up by unknown persons on the trail, with promises of safe passage — instead they are forced into prostitution or into working against their will. BBC covered some specific examples quite well here.
What more volatile a situation than an actual war? Trafficking flourishes on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as people have been made vulnerable by years of fighting. Over the unrelenting years of war, the Taliban have developed fairly systematic methods and routes for smuggling both ways across the border. This hits the news most frequently when regarding fighters and/or weapons and ammunition, but it also covers illegal goods and the trafficking of human beings. The politics surrounding the border between the countries is complicated enough as it is, and human traffickers not only exacerbate those issues, but they take advantage of the ambiguity and profit directly from it.
These are just a few examples of how traffickers take advantage of the most vulnerable people in the world — those facing monumental, life-altering humanitarian level crises. One could be a relatively well-off land-owner in a prominent position in society, and given the right circumstances, they could be forced into a terrible situation, trafficked and used for profit in one way or another.
Featured image: In this In this Tuesday, May 12, 2015, photo 17-year old Rorbiza rests at camp home of Dapaing, North of Sittwe, western Rakhine state, Myanmar, after escaping from a human trafficking boat. Brokers promise pretty young girls the prospect of arranged marriages in Malaysia, though activists say in recent years many have instead been sold into prostitution.(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)