What is human trafficking?

The crime of trafficking in persons is prohibited in international law and criminalized by the national legislation of a growing number of States. Although several international and regional instruments, in particular some of the human rights conventions, are relevant to action against trafficking in persons, the key international treaty is the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary Protocol, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2000) (‘Trafficking in Persons Protocol’).

“Trafficking in persons” is defined in Article 3 of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol . It is the intention to exploit the individual concerned that underpins this crime and which distinguishes it from other forms of criminal acts, including the smuggling of migrants.

Human trafficking happens when a person is tricked, trapped or coerced into being exploited for another person’s private gain or profit.

It is a crime and can take various forms, such as:

  • sexual exploitation
  • forced labor
  • domestic servitude
  • slavery or similar practices
  • gender-based violence
  • forced begging or criminality.

How can you keep yourself and your family safe?

There are many that will want to help you, but not everyone is who they say there are. There are persons who want to take advantage of your situation.

For example, they may promise you accommodation, transport, or free food, and use this as a way to pressure you into sexual acts, work or services you do not agree with. Or they may want to harm you or take your belongings.

There are signs you can look for to keep yourself and your family safe. For example, be alert if someone:

  • is asking for your passport or other identification documents (apart from public authorities, for example at border check points);
  • is asking for your phone, laptop or other means of communication;
  • wants to remove you from your family or others you are travelling with;
  • is offering you a job that sounds too good to be true;
  • is pressuring you to perform work, services or sex (including to repay ‘debts’);
  • is offering you assistance – such as food – only if you carry out certain ‘services’;
  • is promising to help you get registered, relocated or resettled to another country against payment (except for regular transportation fees);
  • is hiring you but not paying you, or paying only part of what was promised;
  • is hiring you, but not giving you decent working conditions or limiting your movement, for example by taking your documents or locking the door.

What steps can you take to stay safe?

  • Be alert and follow your own intuition about people you don’t know.
  • Always hold onto your documents. Take copies of them on your phone and send them to someone you trust.
  • Keep in touch with your family and other people you trust.
  • Know your rights and where you can get help.
  • Seek reliable information from trusted sources.

If you are looking for a place to stay:

  • Use organized accommodation by known organizations, if possible.
  • If using an online service provider, make sure to select hosts that have a positive rating and look at the reviews on the page.
  • If you stay with private individuals, try to ask around about the person first. Don’t accept to be removed from your family or those you arrived with, and don’t give away your documents.
  • Ask if anything is expected of you in return and always agree on a price beforehand.

If you are looking for transportation:

  • Use organised transportation by known providers, as far as this is possible.
  • Don’t accept to be removed from your family or those you arrived with, and don’t give away your documents.
  • Always agree on a price on beforehand.

How UNHCR is helping victims of human trafficking:

UNHCR is entrusted by the United Nations General Assembly to provide international protection to refugees, and to find permanent solutions to their problems. Subsequent General Assembly resolutions have expanded UNHCR’s mandate which includes refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, refugee returnees and internally displaced persons.

As per UNHCR’s Guidelines on International Protection, “UNHCR’s involvement with the issue of trafficking is essentially twofold. Firstly, the Office has a responsibility to ensure that refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and other persons of concern do not fall victim to trafficking. Secondly, the Office has a responsibility to ensure that individuals who have been trafficked and who fear being subjected to persecution upon a return to their country of origin, or individuals who fear being trafficked, whose claim to international protection falls within the refugee definition contained in the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (hereinafter “the 1951 Convention”) are recognized as refugees and afforded the corresponding international protection.” In addition, in line with its statelessness mandate, UNHCR may supports victims of trafficking who are without identity documents to establish their nationality status in order to prevent them from being rendered stateless.