Human Trafficking in Mauritania
The U.S. Department of State has ranked Mauritania on the Tier 2 Watch List, indicating that it needs to do much more when it comes to tackling human trafficking. The Tier 2 Watch List reflects countries that have made strides to stop human trafficking but do not comply with all of the established minimum prevention criteria. Here is some information about human trafficking in Mauritania.

About Human Trafficking in Mauritania

Slavery and child labor have been part of Mauritania’s long history. Mauritania did not abolish the practice until 1981, and it was only two decades later before it became a criminal offense. This is the root cause of human trafficking in the region.

Indeed, many often refer to Mauritania as one of the last strongholds of slavery. Estimates point to approximately 20% of the 3.4 million Mauritanians living in some form of enslavement; women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Many factors complicate the issue of slavery and bondage in Mauritania. Like many other religions, Islam does not condemn slavery and recognizes it as an institution. The Maliki School of Islamic Law was famous in Mauritania before the 19th century. After the holy wars, labor was necessary to boost the economy and Muslims used Maliki law to justify the enslavement of black Africans.

Human trafficking in Mauritania has deep roots. Slavery and the trafficking of children operate quietly in the nomadic and pastoral settlements of the country. People often pass slaves down through family ties and generations. There are no chains and few large transactions that one can track in Mauritania. The government has also allowed a system of forced labor to exist.


Mauritania’s government implemented the Law of Associations, which gives NGOs more room to investigate issues, establish a permanent committee on trafficking and increase fundraising for the anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP). The law has anti-trafficking organizations’ investigations involving three hereditary slavery instances in the country. According to the U.S. Department of State’s data, authorities arrested 14 traffickers and prosecuted five traffickers since 2020. As a member of the G5 Sahel (countries that cooperate with counterterrorism efforts), Mauritania has been willing to comply but large improvements on behalf of the Law on Associations have not undergone fulfillment.

Although the government showed some commitment to the cause, it has yet to develop strong enough institutions to prosecute traffickers effectively — to which the severe impacts of COVID-19 did not help to strengthen their anti-slavery institutions. Human trafficking in Mauritania can disappear, but only if the country takes more effective measures.

Room for Improvement

The U.S. Department of State has suggested that Mauritania increase efforts to prosecute cases of human trafficking and hereditary slavery; which would include directing law enforcement to investigate instances of trafficking and slavery fully. There should also be an institution in place to help victims of human rights violations such as human trafficking in the Sahel.

A glimpse into the marginalized groups in Mauritania provides a sense of optimism for a better future. Biram Dah Abeid is an abolitionist in Mauritania who authorities previously arrested for fighting against the country’s deeply rooted slave tradition and recently became a member of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations to truly improve their human rights initiative. He founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, which actively sought to empower people in Mauritania to protest slavery in a non-violent manner. The non-violent tactics include sit-ins, publicizing the issue and assisting victims. The Netherlands presented him with the Human Rights Tulip Award in recognition of his work.

Human trafficking and slavery have significant roots in the nation’s history, but the government has made some efforts to combat the issue. More work is essential to improve the safety and security of marginalized groups in Mauritania.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Serbia
The U.N. has stated that human trafficking is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” Nicolas Bizel of the EU delegation to Serbia believes that human trafficking is “the most profitable criminal activity in the world.” In the 1980s, many considered Serbia more prosperous than its regional neighbors. However, the affluence of Serbia would not last. ASTRA – Anti-Trafficking Action suggests that due to the subsequent Yugoslav Wars, the arrival of different foreign military groups into the region allowed for human trafficking to thrive in Serbia. According to ATINA, Serbia today is considered a “source, transit and destination country for children, women and men trafficked for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation.”

The Link Between Poverty and Human Trafficking

Serbia’s poverty rate was 24.3% in 2017. In comparison, Serbia’s neighbor Hungary had a poverty rate of 12.3% in 2019, significantly lower than that of Serbia. The GDP per capita in Serbia was $9,230 in 2021 and the unemployment rate was 10.1%. Transform Justice found a strong correlation between poverty and violent crime, whereas crime and corruption are more common in nations with higher poverty rates.

In 2021, there were a total of 46 officially identified victims of human trafficking, 39 of whom were Serbian citizens. However, it is increasingly difficult to estimate the true number of victims. ASTRA Anti-Trafficking Action understands that the number could be significantly higher. Many victims of human trafficking “remain invisible to the public eye.” The main reason for this seems to be that the exploited are working in closed-off environments such as abandoned factories or fenced-off estates.

Human trafficking in Serbia affects women and children significantly more than men. Women and children count for the majority of victims in Serbia. For women, it is most likely that traffickers exploit them for sex work throughout Europe. In fact, the thriving sex trade in Serbia has “overwhelmed the police” who have become unable to sustain the campaign against human trafficking and the sex trade. The Institute For War & Peace Reporting states that the campaign against the industry is sure to fail until many women stop viewing escort work as a way out of poverty.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, Serbia was downgraded to a tier 2 rating. This means that Serbia failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, however, it is “making significant efforts to do so.”

Serbia’s Response

Serbia has set penalties for sex trafficking and labor trafficking to two to 12 years imprisonment for an adult victim and three to 12 years for a child victim, according to the Trafficking in Persons Report. This is in line with serious crimes such as rape.

The Serbian Police filed complaints on 63 suspects, an increase from 57 in 2020. The Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) investigated 35 suspects in comparison with 22 in 2020. However, the PPO failed to prosecute more defendants than in 2020. Alongside this, courts convicted 16 traffickers compared with 18 in 2020, according to the same report.

ASTRA-Anti-Trafficking Action

ASTRA – Anti-Trafficking Action is a non-governmental organization fighting to eradicate all forms of human trafficking. During its journey to combat human trafficking, the organization has assisted 507 victims and aims to help many more in Serbia.

The organization has employed several methods to tackle human trafficking. Primarily, an information and prevention campaign in Serbia. This includes encouraging people to pay attention, recognizing human trafficking in their environment and reporting the case. Alongside this, ASTRA educates individuals on early potential signs that they may be potential victims such as whether a potential job offer is real.

ASTRA – Anti-Trafficking Action has acknowledged that it is fighting an increasingly difficult battle due to the indifference of the Serbian institutions. As a result, it has a hotline in case any individual would like to report a matter: 011-785-0000.

The Future

The Serbian government and ASTRA – Anti-Trafficking Action’s desire to eradicate human trafficking in Serbia could be a positive step. With human trafficking largely affecting the most vulnerable, any positive action can help improve the future living situation for the most exposed in Serbia.

A healthy and growing economy can only help the poorest in Serbia, raising the standard of living and reducing poverty. Reducing poverty makes it harder for organized crime to partake in human trafficking. Reducing the risk for the most vulnerable.

– Josef Whitehead
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Zambia
In 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, approximating that 24.9 million individuals are victims of human trafficking around the world. This prediction includes 20.1 million labor trafficking victims and 4.8 million sex trafficking victims. Globally, the ILO estimates 99% of victims to be women and girls. The World Population Review states, “Child trafficking is very common in Africa…where approximately 100% of all human trafficking victims are children.”

Causes and Effects of Human Trafficking

As mentioned, human trafficking is mainly an issue in developing countries, rather than developed countries. This is mainly due to the various political, social and economic differences between the two groups. Included are various causes and effects of human trafficking, all of which inhibit a developing country’s ability to overcome human trafficking.


  • Poverty: Poverty offers a vulnerable position for families, thus becoming the target of traffickers. This factor is often due to the poor condition of a country’s economy and/or social inequality.
  • Unemployment: Traffickers often use the desperation of the unemployed to persuade them to leave their country. Traffickers use these unknowing individuals to manipulate them into forms of forced labor and sexual exploitation, as victims get threats with potential reports to an immigration officer.
  • Displacement: War, political instability and natural disasters force victims into vulnerable positions, thus allowing traffickers to easily prey on individuals and embed them into human trafficking.


  • Mental Trauma: Victims often face dehumanization and objectification, thus leaving them in a state of mental degradation. Victims often experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame. These mental conditions can lead to suicide and abuse, forever inhibiting the victim to become economically independent.
  • Physical Trauma: Many victims experience physical abuse in the trafficking process. Individuals often face rape, beating and subjecting to other abuses over an extended period of time. Sexual exploitation, a common form of human trafficking, also leads to the increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. These physical injuries can lead to an inability to work and death.
  • Ostracism: Victims of human trafficking often experience social isolation from friends and family due to personal feelings and cultural beliefs. In the case of Africa, loved ones often blame or shun victims of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Zambia

Despite the Government of Zambia’s inability to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, the U.S. State Department ranks Zambia on the Tier 2 Watch List, as it is making tremendous efforts to do so.

The most vulnerable population to human trafficking in Zambia is mainly women and children. A poor economy and low social status encourage traffickers to use women and young girls for sexual exploitation, while they often use young boys for forced labor in agriculture, textile production, mining and other profit-inducing businesses.

Due to the high rate of migration within Africa, traffickers are also prone to exploiting immigrants desperate to cross borders into another region. The U.S. State Department reports, “Traffickers exploit women and children from neighboring countries in forced labor and sex trafficking in Zambia, including transiting migrants whose intended destination is South Africa. In recent years, traffickers lure Rwandan women to Zambia with promises of refugee status, coerce them into registering as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) nationals seeking refugee status in Zambia, and subsequently exploit them in sex trafficking and threaten them with physical abuse and reporting them to immigration officials for fraudulent refugee claims.”

Efforts to End Human Trafficking in Zambia

The U.S. State Department applauds the Zambian Government for its efforts to end the practice of human trafficking, as it states, “The government…[has] launched various awareness campaigns via billboards, radio shows, text alerts and pamphlets in rural and border areas to educate local communities on human trafficking.”

Additionally, on December 19, 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) partnered with the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) to validate the Anti-Human Trafficking Act No.11 of 2008. The review was associated with revamping the 2002 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol).

The Road Ahead

Reducing human trafficking in Zambia is a daunting task. Despite this, the Zambian government has made significant efforts to improve. By raising awareness and developing plans to advance socially and economically, the prevalence of human trafficking in Zambia can reduce.

– Sania Patel
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan
The Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan convicted 23 sex traffickers in 2021 out of the 49 trafficking cases that it prosecuted the same year. The government made notable efforts to deal with human trafficking in Kazakhstan that includes steady support to nonprofit organizations as they play a key role in conducting awareness campaigns, supporting the victims and taking care of their individual rights.

Sana Sezim is one such NGO that carries out anti-trafficking activities and supports the victims in every possible way. The mission of the organization is to build civil society and democracy through the promotion of women and children and the protection of their rights in society with the motive of preventing human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Victims of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a destination, origin and transit country for women and girls for sexual exploitation and for men, women and children for labor exploitation. Victims of domestic violence are at risk of trafficking because of their vulnerable situation.

Most of the victims come in search of employment and end up doing forced sex work and labor at construction sites, agriculture or another sector while children have to beg on the streets. The traffickers lure young girls and women with job opportunities like modeling, waitressing and nannying, and exploit them. Meanwhile, they forcefully push both adults and children into criminal activities. The traffickers prey on the migrant workers, mostly illegal migrants and threaten them to remain in the business, who in fear of punishment over illegal border crossing, do not report to the authorities. The women and children arriving with the migrant workers are also likely to become a target to the traffickers.

“Most (about 70%) of the victims who contacted the organization were citizens of other countries. For example, among the victims for 11 months of 2022, only 24 are citizens of Kazakhstan. As we are close to Uzbekistan, the majority of beneficiaries are citizens of Uzbekistan,” Shakhnoza Khassanova, Director of Sana Sezim, told The Borgen Project in an interview.

Anti-Trafficking Efforts

The Kazakhstan Government has made noteworthy improvements in law and order. The government amended Article 134 in 2021 which increased the obligatory imprisonment period of child traffickers to three to six years, according to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Kazakhstan.

“Today, with the cooperation of the Government, law enforcement agencies and civil society, a lot of joint work on combating human trafficking in Kazakhstan is carried out,” said Khassanova.

The government has stretched enormous support and coordination with nonprofit organizations countering human trafficking in Kazakhstan. It has spent a generous amount of money on awareness campaigns, funded radio and TV programs and also distributed facemasks with an anti-human trafficking hotline number printed on them during the pandemic.

The Government and the NGOs

The government continues to publicize an NGO-operated hotline number and also provides training to its operators on victim identification and service assistance. Khassanova also explained that the Ministry of Internal Affairs established the Interdepartmental Commission on Combating Illegal Export, Import and Trafficking in Persons, which also includes all relevant government bodies and non-governmental organizations including Sana Sezim.

Nonprofit organizations also cooperate with the police in carrying out anti-trafficking operations. The government-funded and NGO-operated shelters provide all the basic facilities like food, clothing, medical and legal help to the victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

“Working with victims of human trafficking is a holistic approach. This includes the work of several professionals, such as legal services, psychological services and social services.” Khassanova explained.

“The main work of our organization is to identify violations of the rights of migrant workers, assist them, assist the victim in applying to the law enforcement agencies to hold the exploiter accountable, assist in the restoration of documents, if necessary, organize the return of the victim to his family home, as well as represent their legal rights and interests in court.”

Looking Forward

“Sana Sezim is currently implementing a project covering eight regions of Kazakhstan with the support of the U.S. Department of State. This project carries out activity on counteraction to human trafficking in Kazakhstan according to the 4P approach (prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership) that Palermo Protocol specified,” Khassanova explained.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan also announced the government’s plan to form a draft law on human trafficking in April 2023.

– Aanchal Mishra
Photo: PxHere

Human Trafficking in BeninWedged between Togo and Nigeria, Benin is a West African nation home to over 10 million people, most known as the origin place of voodoo. The national poverty rate of Benin was 38.5% in 2021, and the proportion of people living under $1.90 a day was 19.2% in 2019. Like any other country, human trafficking impacts vulnerable population groups in Benin.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), human trafficking is the act of forced sexual exploitation or the subjection of labor through involuntary servitude. The TVPA outlines the minimum standards a country must meet to eliminate trafficking. This is to ensure that countries label human trafficking as a punishable crime and make serious efforts toward change.

The TVPA ranks countries by tiers regarding the government’s efforts towards ending human trafficking, with Tier 1 indicating countries that meet the minimum standards of effort and Tier 3 being countries that do not meet the standards and are not making moves to do so. Benin falls under Tier 2, as the country does not fully meet the standards but is attempting to do so. The government is taking steps to convict more traffickers, expand awareness and victim identification, identify traffickers and increase training for law enforcement. Unfortunately, Benin authorities have failed to sentence convicted traffickers.

Human Trafficking in Benin

Benin’s trafficking portfolio explains that most trafficking in the country is internal and involves low-income children and other vulnerable populations. Common tactics of this type of recruitment include the false promises of education and a job. Most traffickers are known community members, like civil servants and farmers. Debt bondage is another way traffickers trap victims. In 2022, the Benin government reported a total of 701 trafficked victims. Overall, 111 children and 40 adults were sexually trafficked and 550 children were reported to be labor trafficking victims.

Beninese children are not just exploited within the country but throughout Western Africa. Within the Republic of Congo, Benin is the largest source of trafficking victims, with nationwide child and forced marriages and domestic servitude. Women from Benin are frequently trafficked for labor and commercial sex internationally.

Strives Toward Change

The Department of State in the U.S. recommends that the country should continue developing training of law enforcement and judicial officials to improve their investigations and prosecutions of traffickers in accordance with its laws. Expanding capacity to provide nonmedical services to victims and finalizing an agreement with Togo and Nigeria that shares information and cooperate on transnational investigations would help too.

The U.N. also suggests the global incorporation of training on human trafficking for medical and behavioral health professionals to aid victims and increase prevention. This includes teaching patients about informed consent, providing trauma-informed care and having resources for victims that support food security and housing.

There are multiple multilateral organizations and agencies that are fighting human trafficking specifically in West Africa. ECPAT works towards ending the sexual exploitation of children and partnered with a network of NGOs called C.L.O.S.E. to reach as many victims as possible. Benin’s International Criminal Police Organization National Central Bureau Cotonou also works to protect national security by investigating trafficking routes, along with being a major player in the organization’s fugitive investigation operations. In 2021, Benin’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons rescued more than victims, arresting 75 traffickers and convicting three.

Although much more attention is needed to address human trafficking in Benin, the government’s efforts coupled with victim support from NGOs will help to move the needle on this dire issue.

– Audrey Gaines
Photo: Flickr

 Human Trafficking in Malta
Malta rests in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. With a population of approximately 520,000, the nation is one of the most densely populated countries across the globe.

In the 1990s, Malta became a common host country for refugees fleeing from former Yugoslavian states and Iraq. As of 2020, reports indicate that most asylum seekers now arrive in Malta from Libya and Syria. The U.S. Department of State reported that one of the most vulnerable populations in Malta is refugees and asylum-seekers. Approximately 9,000 refugees and 4,000 asylum seekers currently reside in Malta. This demographic is increasingly more likely to become trafficked into Malta’s informal labor markets.

Malta: Tier 2 Watchlist

Malta has been identified by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the U.S. State Department as a destination country for trafficked persons. According to the U.S. Department of State, Malta falls on the Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking standards. Despite efforts to raise public awareness, develop victim assistance services and implement training procedures for government officials the government of Malta fails to meet the minimum requirements to combat human trafficking. The government maintains very few records of human trafficking incidents and GRETA has actively called on Malta to increase its efforts to combat human trafficking.

Human Trafficking Efforts on the Ground

The Malta Police Force Vice-Squad initiated 16 investigations in 2020, 11 more than in 2019. Unfortunately, in 2021, the government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers.

Although the situation remains concerning, the government of Malta is still making efforts to end human trafficking in Malta. The Ministries for Home Affairs, Law Enforcement and National Security have engaged the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide guidance in implementing and training Maltese stakeholders on the ground. Maltese police officer recruitment now entails a three-month induction course and an annual two-week hands-on training service. In 2019, reports indicate the International Centre for Parliamentary studies conducted a five-day training on human trafficking procedures with the Maltese police force. In an effort to raise further awareness, an additional human trafficking prevention and protocol training event occurred for more than 150 diplomats, consuls and ambassadors working in Maltese Foreign Representations.

Efforts to Spread Awareness

In an effort to raise awareness among the general public and those at risk of falling victim to the human trafficking network, the national TVM channel aired a piece relating to human trafficking in Malta every day for three months. The national awareness campaign encourages members of the public to report any suspicious activity or leads of human trafficking cases in Malta.

In July 2019, the campaign “Human, like you” launched with the intention to inform the public about the underground human trafficking economy and its subsequent impact on the nation. The slogan is presented as a bar code representing how traffickers are marketing and selling human beings like objects. The campaign shares accounts from real-life victims of human trafficking and provides a safe space for reporting crimes. Overall, “Human, like you” gives a voice to the voiceless and empowers others to speak out and report suspicious activity.

Looking Ahead

In the modern world, awareness is key to bringing about change. The government’s efforts to implement training services and national television programs demonstrate that authorities have acknowledged the great risk traffickers pose to vulnerable populations. National campaigns aimed at spreading awareness and providing a voice to human trafficking victims provide a safe outlet for the general public. The collective efforts demonstrate that the nation recognizes the grave danger posed by human trafficking networks. This recognition alone paints a hopeful picture of an end to human trafficking in Malta.

– Sophie Caldwell
Photo: Flickr

North Korean Defectors in China
Every year, thousands of North Korean nationals attempt to escape their home country, fleeing from poverty, famine, forced labor and political persecution. Many smuggle into China, as it represents the best chance of escape in comparison to the highly guarded South Korean border. Unfortunately, once in China, defectors are hardly safe. The questionable legal status and vulnerability of these North Koreans make them uniquely susceptible to human trafficking, sex slavery, forced marriages, prostitution and more. These rampant human rights violations in China happen across the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims suffering in silence.

Living Conditions in North Korea

For many, the living conditions in North Korea are so grievous that they would rather take their chances in China than stay. According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, North Korea has detained “an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 persons in political prison camps and an undetermined number of persons in other forms of detention facilities, including re-education through labor camps.” Regularly, authorities hold these citizens without any formal criminal charge, trial or conviction. Reports also indicated many cases of detention of accused persons’ family members.

Inside the prison camps, everyone from children to the elderly is “subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, manufacturing or farming for long hours under harsh conditions.” Children get little to no access to education and all prisoners face routine beatings, sexual assault, unhygienic living conditions and insufficient food or medical attention. Closing its borders, North Korea made it impossible to gauge exact numbers, but many do not survive this treatment.

Even outside detention facilities, living conditions are bleak. Since the Arduous March of the 1990s, millions of North Koreans have died from starvation. Largely attributed to a Stalinist economic system and Russia and China’s halted food and oil subsidies to North Korea after the Cold War, this period of sweeping destitution caused a massive spike in migration. Though the estimated rates of defection have slowed since then, starvation is still an issue across North Korea and a prominent reason for an escape to China.

Life in China

The pervasive human rights violations North Korean defectors face in China are appalling. Victims face sexual assault and kidnapping and are often part of perpetually abusive situations. A 2019 report by Korea Future Initiative alleges that tens of thousands of North Korean women and girls become a part of the sex trade and sale–an industry that generates roughly $105 million annually.

This report also revealed that “an estimated 60% of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade. Of that number, close to 50% are forced into prostitution, over 30% sold into a forced marriage, and 15% pressed into cybersex,” according to Forbes.

Prostitution in China reportedly accounts for about 6% of China’s GDP. Cybersex trafficking is becoming a more prevalent issue, with girls as young as 9 years old becoming victims in front of cameras live-streaming to a global audience.

Forced marriage has long been a practice of abusers of this vulnerable population. China’s “long-standing one-child policy and penchant for sons have resulted in a massive gender imbalance, making it challenging for Chinese men to find wives.” The physical and psychological abuse of “bride trafficking” that victims face is often overwhelming.

What is more, victims of these atrocities are unable to speak up. A simple recognition as a North Korean national has dire consequences, primarily due to China’s ruthless repatriation policy. If Chinese authorities discover them, they forcibly return trafficking victims to North Korea, “where they are subject to harsh punishment, including forced labor in labor camps, torture, forced abortions” or even executions, according to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report. Many choose to endure the conditions in China rather than face retribution from their native country.

Legal Gray Area

The legal status of North Korean escapees is a major contributor to their unique vulnerability. They are typically classified between categories in international law that divide migrants into “deserving and undeserving groups–forced or voluntary, political refugee or economic migrant, trafficked or smuggled.”

North Koreans usually want to leave their country, making them arguably complicit with their smugglers. Therefore, many perceive them more like ‘economic migrants,’ defined as “smuggled” instead of “trafficked.”

The U.N. Protocol on Trafficking calls on governments to protect the victims of trafficking. However, as China classifies North Korean defectors as economic migrants, they do not make any protective efforts, instead opting for their notorious repatriation policy.

Refugee protections would almost certainly benefit these defectors. However, the U.N. defines a refugee as a person who has “fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and has crossed an international border to find safety in another country.” This definition does not include economic migrants, meaning that North Korean defectors do not apply the protections a refugee gets either.

However, according to UNHCR, the same people that China deems “economic migrants” could arguably be considered refugees “sur place” given the “well-founded fear of persecution” and grave consequences they would face upon their return.

All said, there is no perfect classification of North Korean defectors in China, leaving them to fall between the cracks of international law. With no protections, nowhere to turn for help and no resources, their abusers are free to act without consequence.


Some organizations have taken steps to help address these atrocities. The All-China Women’s Federation, an NGO headquartered in Beijing, has established ongoing projects to address and “alleviate the problem, including, in four provinces, the establishment of transfer, training and recovery centers” that have assisted more than a thousand victims to date. China has also hosted a number of Children’s Forums in Beijing to raise awareness for child trafficking, and in 2007, the government agreed to a Plan of Action Combating the Trafficking of Women and Children. 

Nonprofit organizations around the world, such as Crossing Borders and Liberty in North Korea, have done what they can to assist North Korean refugees. However, they are facing pushback due to China’s 2017 Foreign NGO law. The U.N. has called for this law to be repealed, stating it “can be wielded as tools to intimidate, and even suppress, dissenting views and opinions in the country,” E-International Relations reports.

While it is a relief to see governmental and non-governmental organizations taking steps to address this complex and distressing issue, advocates are calling for increased attention and an international response. Some North Korean escapees, such as activist Yeonmi Park, have amassed broad followings by sharing their harrowing stories. By uplifting the voices of these survivors and demanding action, the global community can make a vital difference in the lives of these individuals.

– Carly Ryan Brister
Photo: Unsplash

FIFA World Cup QatarThis year, from November 20 to December 18, 32 countries competed in Qatar for the coveted championship cup. While the FIFA World Cup Qatar tournament is an extraordinary display of international collaboration and unity, it is important to consider the social ramifications of the World Cup and its contribution to poverty. For the last several years, the impacts of major sporting events on the poor communities in host cities have been a point of concern. This year, human rights advocates all over the world are condemning Qatar for its disregard for human rights, particularly the mistreatment of migrant laborers.

Migrant Laborers in Qatar

Since Qatar was awarded the privilege of hosting the tournament 12 years ago, the nation has poured an estimated $220 billion into construction This includes the building of eight stadiums, several new hotels, rail and highway infrastructure and “expansion of the airport,” Human Rights Watch reports, through the efforts of millions of migrant workers. While FIFA moved the tournament itself to November to protect the athletes from dangerously high heat levels, laborers toiled in extreme conditions of heat.

Though it is impossible to obtain exact numbers, “official Qatari statistics show that 15,021 non-Qataris died in the country between 2010 and 2019.” After contacting five embassies in Qatar (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), The Guardian confirmed at least 6,750 deaths of migrant workers in Qatar since FIFA awarded the nation the games. However, this is an underestimation as there are many more countries that have sent workers to Qatar.

Media reports detail inhumane and unsafe working conditions in FIFA World Cup-related projects. These deaths have also put a spotlight on the Gulf region’s “kafala” (sponsorship) system, under which “laborers require their employers’ permission to switch jobs, return home or even open a bank account.” Workers cannot join labor unions or strike and Human Rights Watch has even documented “wage theft by a prominent Qatari construction firm with FIFA-related projects.” It is still standard for many migrant workers to pay inordinate recruitment fees that result in a form of debt bondage.

Restitution and Compensation for Deaths

Officials have blamed thousands of these deaths on “natural causes,” overlooking the harsh inhumane working conditions. According to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, affected families have the right to request restitution or financial compensation for the wrongful deaths of their loved ones.

However, when these deaths are attributed to “natural causes” or classified as “non-work-related,” Qatar’s labor law refuses families any compensation. Amnesty International says the Qatari government has neglected to properly investigate these deaths. Economic hardship resulting from these wrongful deaths may push families into debt bondage and increase rates of child marriage and child labor.

Human rights organizations say FIFA is making minimal efforts to prevent these deaths or set acceptable standards of protection for migrant workers. FIFA is disregarding its 2017 Human Rights Policy that pledges to “go beyond its responsibility to respect human rights” by taking “measures to promote the protection of human rights and positively contribute to their enjoyment.”

At the “Managing the Beautiful Game” conference on May 2, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was questioned on whether FIFA supports the families of the workers who perished building FIFA World Cup stadiums. Infantino retorted, “when you give work to somebody, even in hard conditions, you give him dignity and pride,” later adding, “6,000 might have died in other works and so on…[but] FIFA is not the police of the world or responsible for everything that happens around the world.”

Taking Action

A media attaché at the Qatari Embassy highlighted in a November 2022 article that “the World Cup has been a catalyst for Qatar to develop a robust labor program.”

“Reforms include a new nondiscriminatory minimum wage, the removal of barriers to change jobs and the introduction of a worker compensation fund in 2018 that had paid out at least $350 million” at the time of writing.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) confirms this progress, recognizing on November 1, 2022, that Qatar had “undertaken comprehensive labor reforms to improve the conditions of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.” The reforms have “yielded benefits for workers, employers and the economy more broadly.”

Individuals and organizations around the world have come together to illuminate the human rights violations occurring in Qatar. Football clubs, players, supporters and celebrities from around the globe even called for a boycott of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar. While there is no true compensation for losses of life, the circumstances have brought the international community together in support of basic human rights.

– Carly Ryan Brister
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in PanamaAccording to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the “third most lucrative business for organized crime,” and the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index has shown that Central America has become a hub for the world’s “most profitable criminal economies.” However, Panama is one of the countries in the region working towards fighting human trafficking, In 2019, there were 61 detected cases of human trafficking compared with 46 in the previous year. These are four essential facts to know about human trafficking in Panama.

4 Facts about Human Trafficking in Panama

  1. The Darien Gap – The Darien Gap is the uninhabitable rainforest region separating Colombia and Panama. Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to reach the United States and North America in hopes of fleeing civil unrest and violence. According to UNICEF’s 2022 records, around 32,500 children have walked through this region, with half being younger than 5 years old. The hostile terrain and lack of infrastructure have made the journey one of the most dangerous routes where lawlessness is rife. Additionally, this has been a route for human trafficking since 2010.
  2. Targeted Demographic – According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are roughly 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Panama, which leaves thousands at risk of being exploited. Venezuelans (as of October 2022, there are approximately 145,9000 living in Panama) and Haitians fleeing civil unrest (who accounted for 80% of those trying to cross the Darien Gap in 2021) make up a substantial portion. The agency is committed to protecting their rights and helping those at risk. In 2022, for example, more than 2,300 refugees received multipurpose cash vouchers which helped meet basic needs. Many victims of human trafficking in Central America were women and girls experiencing sexual exploitation. A submarket has been identified in Panama where women are “trafficked from far afield to cater for wealthier interests.”
  3. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) – The TVPA is a U.S. law that gives the government resources to “mount a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to eliminate modern forms of slavery domestically and internationally.” Panama currently has a Tier 2 which means that the government is not meeting the minimum requirements to eradicate human trafficking in the country but is making significant improvements.
  4. The ‘3 P’s’ Framework: Protection, prosecution and prevention are TVPA assessment criteria. The U.S. Department of State publishes a report annually, an assessment of the country’s attempts to reduce human trafficking. The report also outlines example methods for each section of the framework. Panama has the most success under the prevention section. These actions included: raising awareness in 2020 through seminars, television and radio channels, a public phone hotline (311) for people to report cases, and increased coordination meetings.


TVPA is just one example of an essential piece of legislation currently in place to tackle human trafficking in Panama. Governments and global organizations are coming together to raise awareness and actively change rates of human trafficking. Below are two examples of campaigns working within Panama to do so.

  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) – The IOM is a United Nations organization with operations in Panama. Its purpose is to execute projects that prevent human trafficking and improve security. For example, in June 2021, training sessions were organized to raise awareness for government officials and officers at entry points. Over 100 civil servants in different regions in Panama were trained. Idiam Osorio (an IOM Senior Project Assistant based in Panama) has spoken out in favor of educating and training officials, especially as it is ‘’one of the great challenges in the fight again human trafficking.’’ Health, legal support, emergency, and post-crisis support are other areas in which the IOM supports vulnerable communities.
  • The Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking – Panama joined this campaign in 2014 to raise awareness against human trafficking, becoming one of 30 countries officially supporting this program. The Blue Heart Campaign is the leading advocacy campaign of UNODC. The method of raising awareness is through sharing stories and testimonies of victims. Mobilization of key organizations (such as governments, NGOs and the media) is another significant aim of the movement to combat human trafficking in Panama. For example, Rodolfo Aguilera (Minister of Public Security) and Aldo Lale-Demoz (UNODC Deputy Executive Director Aldo Lale-Dermoz) launched this campaign together with other officials present in Panama. President Juan Carlos Varela signed the Blue Heart Pact to symbolize his administration’s pledge to tackle trafficking. The logo is also important to note because it represents solidarity with victims and the cold-heartedness of criminals. The U.N.’s brand color is blue, again showing the U.N.’s dedication to the campaign.

Current actions toward change seem promising. Hopefully, in the future, human trafficking in Panama will be eradicated and meet all the criteria of Tier 1 of TVPA by implementing systems that will prevent future cases for good.

– Taran Dhillon
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in SerbiaAccording to the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, Serbia ranks as a Tier 2 country, which means “the Government of Serbia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking [in relation to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000] but is making significant efforts to do so.” The U.S. Department of Justice defines human trafficking as “a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for labor, commercial services or sex.” According to the NGO Atina, “Serbia is [a] source, transit and destination country for children, women and men trafficked for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation, coercion to commit crimes, forced begging and forced marriage.”

Poverty and Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is more common in countries with higher poverty rates as lack of money/resources is one of its driving factors. Economic deprivation makes individuals more vulnerable to human trafficking as many impoverished people are desperate to find a way out of poverty. Low-income families sometimes resort to sending their children away with seemingly trustworthy people promising to provide the education and resources needed. Serbia is one of those developing countries where the poor state of the economy contributes to the prevalence of human trafficking. The country had a poverty rate of 21.7% in 2019, according to the World Bank, and an unemployment rate of 10.1% in 2021.

Types of Human Trafficking in Serbia

Human trafficking in Serbia involves men, women and children. However, women and children are the most vulnerable, representing the majority of victims. The targets are both domestic and foreign, with Roma children in Serbia being more likely to fall prey to human traffickers. This is a consequence of the discrimination and marginalization of the Roma community. Unfortunately, the majority of the Roma population also faces difficulties accessing social protection, decent housing and other essential resources.

Usually, Serbian women are trafficked in sex work all over Europe, particularly in Turkey, Austria, Germany and Italy. Men, on the other hand, are mainly forced to work in labor-intensive sectors, whereas children are pushed into “sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging and petty crime.” According to the 2021 TIP Report, “thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia transiting through or left stranded in Serbia are vulnerable to trafficking within Serbia.”

According to the 2021 TIP Report, courts and judges are often lenient toward defendants accused of human trafficking and forced labor, with some judges displaying victim-blaming attitudes and prejudices, especially toward vulnerable groups and Roma people.

Serbia Takes Action

Over the last few years, the Serbian government has increased national spending on anti-human trafficking efforts. For instance, the government gave $240,080 to the Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV) and the Urgent Reception Center (URC), a sharp rise in comparison to the $31,320 contribution in 2019.

The government has also implemented awareness campaigns and stepped up law enforcement efforts. In 2020, Serbian authorities prosecuted 42 defendants for sex trafficking and forced labor under article 388, a reduction from 47 prosecutions in 2019. Serbia has set penalties of up to 12 years for such criminals and convicted 18 traffickers.

In order to investigate forced labor, the Ministry of Interior founded a new investigation unit in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic had, however, delayed trials and negatively impacted police investigations, which are crucial in the battle against human trafficking.

Atina Fights Human Trafficking in Serbia

Founded in 2004, NGO Atina is committed to fighting human trafficking in Serbia. The organization employs a strategy comprised of five components: victim protection, prevention, social enterprise, capacity strengthening and policymaking/advocacy.

Atina founded the social enterprise Bagel Bejgl as a means of providing girl refugees, migrants and trafficking victims with an opportunity to achieve economic independence. Atina director Marijana Savic said on the NGO’s website that the girls also learned valuable skills while working in the bagel shop to take forward into future employment.

Looking Forward

The Serbian government’s efforts to address human trafficking are a step in the right direction in order to secure a better future for the country’s most vulnerable people. Furthermore, Serbia has seen an improvement in the state of the economy with a GDP growth rate of 7.4% in 2021 in comparison to -0.9% in 2020. A stronger economy may allow the country to provide vulnerable citizens with stronger social safety nets and raise living standards in Serbia. With less poverty, citizens will be less vulnerable to the conditions of modern slavery and forced labor.

– Caterina Rossi
Photo: Flickr