The European Commission has released a report that shows a high level of forced human trafficking across the European Union. Over 15,000 victims of forced trafficking were registered from 2013-2014, with sexual exploitation the most common purpose of trafficking.
The report “Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2016)” [pdf] is the first report on human trafficking released by the European Commission since the adoption of the EU anti-trafficking directive.
The report finds that measures to prevent trafficking, and prosecute traffickers, remain inadequate across the European Union. Prosecutions and convictions, it says, are “worryingly low”, partly because police forces have “frequently refused assistance” or misidentified victims as offenders. Even after identification, support offered to victims is often lacking, and gender and age-specific assistance for victims remains inadequate.
In a press release about the report, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: “It is morally and legally unacceptable and inexcusable that in the EU of the 21st century, there are human beings who are bought, sold and exploited like commodities. It is our personal, collective and legal duty to stop this. We have put in place a strong and forward-looking legislative framework to do this.”
The report shows a total of 15,846 registered victims. Sexual exploitation was the purpose for 67% of the cases, with women and girls making up 76% of the total number of victims. The report notes a particularly worrying increase in the level of child trafficking, and recommends member states to take concerted action to prevent trafficking in children.
The report concedes, however, that the actual number of cases is likely far higher than those that are registered. This fact was highlighted by Catherine Bearder, an MEP for the UK Liberal Democratic party, who told the Guardian newspaper that victims of trafficking only come to the attention of authorities when they are arrested or escape: “Very, very few are rescued by the authorities and for me that is shocking.” She said, adding that police forces too often “see the crime, not the person, they see them as illegal immigrants”.
Ms Bearder was one of the MEPs who advocated for an anti-trafficking resolution in the European Parliament last month, that called on EU institutions to do more to combat human trafficking and support victims.