Handling Cases of Victims of Trafficking which require transnational cooperation in the European Union
Asylum seekers at risk for further human rights violations under the Dublin Regulations
The Dublin Regulation establishes rules for which European Member State is responsible for reviewing and assessing an asylum application. This means that the default responsibility for assessing an asylum claim remains with the country of first arrival. In the case of the need for international referral of a (potential) victim of trafficking within the European union the Dublin Regulations heightens the risk for further human rights violations.
The following examples show the difficulties faced by specialized organizations in assisting the needs of (potential) victims of trafficking in human beings in transnational referrals and human rights violations under the Dublin regulation. These cases have been provided by TIATAS partner organizations Arsis (Greece), Sicar Cat (Spain) and Proyecto Esperanza (Spain) who are specialized experts on the support of (potential) victims of trafficking.
Woman threatened by forced marriage in her home country has not been voluntarely relocated with her family on time to ensure she will not encounter repeated threats by the perpetrators wider network in the the first country of arrival to Germany (Greece). Therefore the Family had to travel irregularly through more dangerous migration paths
Case 1: Afghanistan – Greece (Lesvos to Athens) – accepted for voluntary relocation to Italy which did not take place, the family had to leave Greece by themselves because of security concerns
Family A. from Afghanistan has been referred by UNHCR from Lesvos to Athens in 2020. The family consists of the Father, Mother, one daughter at the age of 18 years old, and five sons (16, 13, 9, 6 and 1 year old) The family was forced to leave Afghanistan as the eldest daughter of the family was threatened with forced marriage. When they arrived in Lesvos, the daughter and her mother were attacked by relatives of the man who she was threatened to get married to. The family applied for relocation to Germany while still living on Lesvos.
In March 2021 they were informed that the German authorities were unable to review their file and were offered to take part in the voluntary relocation program to Italy. The family accepted and signed the required documents on 12.03.2021. However, the relocation of the family never took place. The daughter and mother were referred for psychological support to an organization specializing in gender-based violence. The family left Greece alone in the summer of 2022.
Challenges and observations:
Even though the family got accepted for voluntary relocation to Italy the relocation did not take place
A safe transnational referral for the family could not be supported because the family members decided to travel alone and had to face precautions because they had to travel irregularly due to security concerns and very long waiting times for relocation within the Dublin system
The story of Family A is an example of the impact of Dublin Procedures on carrying out transnational referrals
Similar stories have been reproduced several times under the Dublin regulations which lead to further inability to support the needs and safety of clients in the best possible manner
Even if voluntary relocation by another European Member State is accepted the procedures take very long to be carried out or are not carried out at all leaving asylum seekers with security concerns in the country of first arrival with little options other than travelling to another country irregularly
Human trafficking victim exploited in several European countries and returned to Spain as the country of entry to the European Union by applying the Dublin Regulation
One of the defining characteristics of human trafficking is the mobility of victims who, in the cases analyzed, are exploited in different European Union (EU) countries to generate more income for their traffickers. In these cases, victims may come into contact with law enforcement or asylum officers in an EU destination country other than the country of entry. Unfortunately, these victims are often not properly detected and identified as such, and/or do not receive adequate attention according to their needs and the assessment of the risk to which they are exposed. As a result, they are subjected to situations of re-victimization, including, at times, exposure to new trafficking situations.
Case 2: Guinea – Spain – Germany
18 year old woman from Guinea. There is no detailed information about her situation in her country of origin. The only available information is that she was a victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation in prostitution in both Spain and Germany.
Intervention and referral:
Whilst at a center for asylum seekers in Germany, the woman is returned to Spain by the German authorities in application of the Dublin Regulation without any information, coordination, or referral. Once in Madrid, the woman calls the professionals at the German asylum center desperately asking for help. She informs them that she is homeless and living in the street, without economic resources or support of any kind, and that she is being, once again, exploited in prostitution.
Staff at the German center contacts Proyecto Esperanza through the 24-hour emergency telephone number and facilitates the woman’s telephone number so that we can try to contact her urgently and offer her support. They do not provide us with any detailed information about the case, the woman’s situation, or where she is.
We try to contact her immediately on the cell phone number provided, but it is not operational, and neither that day nor in the following days and weeks we manage to contact her. It is impossible to locate her and offer her help.
We provide the little information we have to the police and the emergency social services, but, in spite of following up the case, we have not been able to locate the woman.
Challenges and observations:
The German authorities do not inform the asylum center in Germany where the woman was initially held about her return to Spain.
Despite her highly vulnerable profile, the German authorities also do not share any information, nor coordinate with the Spanish authorities, or with any specialized organization to organize the reception of the woman in Spain.
No detailed information about the case is provided or offered by the asylum center in Germany that contacted Proyecto Esperanza.
It is impossible to locate the woman on the cell phone number provided.
This case is a resounding example of malpractice.
The authorities failed in their obligation of due diligence by not carrying out any information management or coordination in a situation that affected a woman in a position of extreme vulnerability.
The poor performance of the authorities resulted in the re-victimization of the woman who, in the absence of any support and help, ended up being sexually exploited again in prostitution and disappeared.
On the basis of the cases analyzed, we would like to conclude with three general recommendations we consider key in avoiding the re-victimization to which victims, or potential victims of trafficking, from third countries are often subjected in transnational referral processes:
To generate common agreements or Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) between organizations, authorities and key actors in Southern European countries, which are the gateway to the EU for refugees and migrants, and organizations, authorities and key actors located in the countries of subsequent reception.
To establish a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for transnational referral to ensure that transnational referral procedures are coordinated, consistent and cantered on the rights of the victims or potential victims.
To strengthen the training of key actors (both traditional and non-traditional), to improve the early identification of potential victims of trafficking, in the context of asylum procedures, and their ability to refer victims or potential victims safely and quickly. Awareness of the transnational dimension of human trafficking among frontline professionals is critical to advancing access to rights for trafficked persons.
Improving Responses To Trafficking In Contexts Of Armed Conflict
Increased penalties, attention to special vulnerability and safe transnational referrals
This is an english translation of theoriginal text published by Proyecto Esperanza
On 20 December, the Official State Gazette (BOE) published Organic Law 13/2022, of 20 December, which amends Organic Law 10/1995, of 23 November, of the Criminal Code, with the aim of increasing the penalties for crimes of trafficking in human beings for victims displaced by armed conflict or humanitarian catastrophe.
This modification consists of the introduction of a new aggravated modality in section 4 of article 177 of Organic Law 10/1995, of 23 November, of the Criminal Code, so that when „the victim is a person whose situation of vulnerability has been caused or aggravated by the displacement derived from an armed conflict or a humanitarian catastrophe“, the penalty imposed for the crime of trafficking committed will be increased.
The reason for this amendment is mainly due to the situation arising from the armed conflict in Ukraine, a humanitarian disaster which, as is often the case, has led to the forced displacement of millions of people to several European countries, including Spain. In the context of war, people fleeing the conflict are eligible for international protection. Due to the urgency of their need to leave the country, however, they may be forced to resort to traffickers as their only means of escape, for example without travel or identity documents. In addition, once they arrive at their destination, they may face discrimination, restrictions on freedom of movement, or have limited access to humanitarian assistance or other support systems. All of these circumstances increase the risk of being trafficked. For these reasons, refugees, and asylum seekers (especially women and children) are considered highly vulnerable to trafficking at different stages of their flight, and even once they have reached their destination.
The amendment of the criminal code is a step forward in recognising the seriousness of trafficking in especially vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and refugees. However, beyond reinforcing and improving the prosecution of the crime, it is equally important to maximise prevention and protection measures for potential victims, in order to avoid situations of abuse and exploitation, as well as to improve the early detection of signs throughout the process of flight. In this sense, SICAR cat and Proyecto Esperanza continue to advance in our participation as partners in the European project „Transnational Initiative against Trafficking in the Context of Asylum Systems“ (#TIATAS), whose main objective is to improve the detection of signs of trafficking among asylum seekers through:
Capacity building and training for key actors, such as professionals from migrant reception centres and asylum system operators.
Development of common tools, guidelines and procedures to improve, if necessary, the safe referral and access to services of trafficked persons to other EU countries in transnational cases.
In line with the second of the above objectives, the European Commission has just proposed the creation of a European Referral Mechanism as part of its process to update the European Anti-Trafficking Directive 2011/36. In our view, this measure should ensure the safe referral of trafficked persons to other countries. Possible referral should be made based on their specific needs, including the centrality of their safety and protection, and therefore applying the principle of non-refoulment, where referral may pose a high risk of re-trafficking, or where their return is not safe and sustainable.
Pro-active identification of human trafficking victims and safe referrals - insights from STOP dem Frauenhandel, Germany
Over the past 6 months much of JADWIGA’s activities within the TIATAS project have focused on early stage identification of human trafficking victims and persons highly vulnerable to exploitation. The specialised counsellors of JADWIGA have implemented outreach activities throughout the Bavarian region of Germany, with a main focus on refugee camps. Within these months, more than 170 persons have received counselling and referral to specialised support centres. The victims of human trafficking identified through these outreach activities have received trauma informed care and protection.
Others: Iran, Serbia, Albania, North Mazedonia, Turkey, Yemen, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Syria, Ghana, Peru
Age of the beneficiaries
Capacity development meetings and front line service providers workshops
During the month of October, marking the European Anti- Human Trafficking Day and during November, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, JADWIGA Counselling Centre in partnership with IRC Germany have implemented a series of events aimed to steer a multidisciplinary and victim centred approach in identifying victims of human trafficking, referring them to trauma informed care an ensuring that secondary victimisation can and will be avoided. The endeavour has received also the support of the Bavarian Ministry of Justice and has actively engaged both decision makers and grass root level service providers.
During the events, participants had been offered the opportunity to actively contribute in the development of two key tools to be used within and beyond the TIATAS project. These are aimed to facilitate detailed assessments of possible needs and risks of victims of human trafficking and to support safe referrals to adequate service providers both within Germany and various other EU and Non-EU countries.
Furthermore, JADWIGA has presented the TIATAS project within a regional event dedicated to the topic of human trafficking attended by tens of victim support providers and law enforcement agencies from Germany. 
ARSIS TIATAS team has started from October to visit weekly an Open Facility in Attica, in Korinthos, in Ritsona, Malakasa, Thiva. We are conducting outreach meetings and inform door to door the refugees about trafficking and exploitation issues. Furthermore, we organize info sessions in order to contribute to their self-identification and to their access to rights and supporting organizations.
November is the month during which we implement targeted training sessions in order to improve early identification knowledge among front-line service providers.
We also organized the third big workshop with over 30 professionals in order to empower them in their everyday contact with victims or potential victims.
Visiting the Open Facilities
Within the framework of the TIATAS program, ARSIS visits the Open Accommodation Facilities of Attica, Corinth, Thebes and Evia in order to inform the refugee population on issues of prevention and combating exploitation and trafficking in human beings.
Visits the Sites while challenging, they can also be a very interesting experience. Within this visits, you encounter people from Third Countries, gathered in an open outdoor space, outside of the central cities of the country. Accommodation Facilities offer temporary accommodation to third-country nationals or stateless individuals who have applied for international protection within the territory of Greece. They also host the family members of applicants, minors- whether unaccompanied or not, as well as vulnerable individuals. People are living in containers awaiting a decision on their application for international protection through which maybe they will be recognized as refugees/or will be granted subsidiary protection or maybe be threatened with deportation back to their country of origin if they will receive a negative decision.
Before passing through the gate, barbed wire is visible, a sight which maps and demarcates the area. After the gate, you walk along the first few paths to reach your destination and as you continue, you come across makeshift clothing stalls, half-closed self-operated shops, children on bicycles welcoming you with smiles and cats and dogs lying on the ground.
In many containers you notice improvised courtyards with all kinds of material… carpets, irons, wood, sheets. Some neglected and dirty, others blooming and clean. At the same time, you can mentally wander to different cultures through the intense smells of food, aromas, spices, dialects that people communicate with each other about everyday issues and sounds through songs and traditional melodies…
Through our outreach activity we inform people „door to door“ about trafficking issues. This way helps us to have direct contact and communication with the people, immediate response to questions that arise in each household and a richer experience of getting to know unique people.
Due to the long wait in legal proceedings, you encounter many faces sullen, resigned, suspicious, initially interacting with distrust and indifference. Although, once they see our intention to contact and our interest in getting to know them, they respond briskly and curiously… as if thirsty for interest, invitation and inclusion…
Trafficking: a hidden history, an invisible phenomenon
During the briefings, we were surprised by the fact that most of the people did not know what Human Trafficking is and therefore could not recognize not only the signs, but also the ways of dealing with it and their rights, in case they or someone they know has been a victim.
For us, the interest and response from their side is very important, both in the first contact within their places of residence and in the more detailed information in the group meetings organized in a central place in the Facilities.
Before leaving we hand out information material in their language and provide a communication channel in case they need further support. Our presence in these facilities is a first attempt to empower the refugees in self-identification of the phenomenon of exploitation prevention.
TIATAS in press article published by Lost in Europe
Investigative journalism on crossborder collaboration in the EU
Many persons affected by human trafficking who are also Dublin Returnees are at high risk of homelessness, exploitation, and re-trafficking due to missing referral mechanisms between EU Member States. Lost in Europe, a cross-border journalism project has investigated this protection gap further and collected insights by various projects focusing on cross border collaboration. One of the projects interviewed was TIATAS.
With its consortium of organizations from Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany, TIATAS aims to close exactly this protection gap by designing a transnational referral mechanism between NGOs and specialized counselling centers, who support Victims of Trafficking.
“Another initiative on a European scale aiming to improve cross-border collaboration is the European funded project TIATAS (Transnational Initiative Against Trafficking in the Context of European Asylum Systems). Project manager Sabine Bauer-Amin, working for the German International Rescue Committee (IRC), started the project in January 2022. “In some countries, there isn’t even a national referral mechanism for victims of human trafficking. Our goal is to increase cooperation across different countries, such as by developing an international database of involved NGOs”, says Bauer-Amin.“ > to the article
Increased penalties, attention to special vulnerability and safe transnational referrals This is an english translation of the original text published by Proyecto Esperanza On 20…
Transnational Referral Mechanisms
Why are they needed?
Blossom* is sitting in the office of an anti-trafficking organization in Italy, trying to remember the points and pieces of her long story of trafficking. She was sold to human traffickers when she was 14 years old. From Nigeria, she has been trafficked into several other countries in West Africa, until she was brought to Libya. At the age of 22, she reached Italy, where she continued to be exploited. After ten more months of exploitation, she escaped her traffickers and fled to Germany. Blossom was picked up by the police in Munich and brought to a reception center for asylum seekers, where she applied for asylum. The police identified her as a potential victim of trafficking and established contact with a counseling center for survivors of human trafficking. Due to her traumatic experiences, it was difficult for Blossom to find trust in the counselors or find a coherent narrative through her own story. After several sessions, the pieces of her story of exploitation could be reconnected by the counselors. While memorizing details was a painful and potentially retraumatising experience for Blossom, the counseling center was trained to guide her through this, conducted a risk and needs assessment and could identify the next steps Blossom could take into a safer future. Yet, Blossom did not agree to partake in any criminal proceedings against her perpetrators out of fear for her family back in Nigeria (to learn more about organized Nigerian trafficking groups in Europe, see fore example here).
Unfortunately, other procedures did not wait this long. As a Dublin case, her case was referred to Italy (while this is very often the case of Third Country National Survivors of Trafficking, there are cases against the admissibility of sending victims back into the country where the exploitation had happened). Without prior knowledge of the German organization, Blossom was brought back to Italy, without the needed support of a specialized NGO, housing or safe networks. In addition, being again in close proximity to her former exploiters, without social ties, Blossom did not have many options whom to turn to for help (Read more on other existing Dublin cases). Without any knowledge of her rights and existing specialized services in Italy, she also feared being asked to retell her story again and refused to relive the trauma. Like many other survivors in similar situations, she chose to avoid touching upon her trauma again.
Did Blossom’s story had to go this way? Was there another way of collaboration sparing her to go through processes repeatedly? Would there have been a safer way to return to Italy?
TRM: What is it good for? Why is it needed?
While Human Trafficking does not always have to include mobility across borders, countries and continents, in many cases it does. In the majority of cases, transborder trafficking includes irregular or irregularized border crossings which brings victims of trafficking even in stronger dependencies of their traffickers. Such dependencies and the abuse of people’s vulnerability are in general strong indicators of trafficking according to the definition of the Palermo Protocol. And while biographies of survivors often include such transnational elements, counseling centers and specialized NGOs, who could safeguard and support, are often left alone with individual efforts of collaboration.
In order to make stories, such as Blossom’s, less frequent, various European agencies are currently working on a transnational referral mechanism that would include all state authorities, offices, criminal investigations and also civil society organizations in supporting identified victims of trafficking in their inner-European mobility. This mobility can have many reasons, such as escaping a trafficking situation, moving towards family and friends, and more often, such as Blossom’s case, Dublin referrals.
What is the problem with TRMs?
In the past 15 years, many actors have tried to set up a holistic TRM that would include all relevant actors. Yet, these tries are in fact quite complex.
ICMPD defines a TRM as:
a co-operative agreement for the cross-border comprehensive assistance and/or transfer of identified or potential trafficked persons. A TRM links all stages of the referral process from the initial screening, through formal identification and assistance, to the voluntary assisted return, the social inclusion, and the civil and criminal proceedings. It is based on the co-operation between governmental institutions, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organisations of countries of origin, transit and destination of the assisted trafficked persons. Through the TRM, state actors of different countries fulfil their obligations to promote and protect the human rights of trafficked persons. (ICMPD, 2010)
A broad TRM has to include in addition a sensitive approach to various scenarios, as well as the steps in between, such as
As the definitions shows, TRMs include a multiplicity of actors such as lawyers, diplomats, psychologists, shelter workers, law enforcement, public prosecutors, policy makers, case workers and also NGO staff, who are all bound to changing laws and also might have a different focus. While some agencies might have the criminal proceedings and fast and effective prosecution of the trafficker as main angle, other organizations focus on the stabilization and empowerment of the survivor. Sometimes, these goals might be in conflict, which makes it difficult to define a coherent TRM. Roles and hierarchies are often not clear and laws, as well as their application, in a constant flux.
Yet, NGOs do continue to collaborate at transnational levels and even without a binding interagency framework, can benefit greatly by clarified roles and responsibilities at least among sending and receiving organizations.
What premises must it be built on?
For specialized NGOs and counseling centers, who focus on the safety and empowerment of survivors, it is clear that all TRMs have to be built on the premises of
Human rights approaches
Trauma und gender sensitivity
Consider all forms of exploitation
Non-punishment for criminal acts of the victim within the trafficking situation
based on needs of survivor
They have to answer to
set minimum requirements for transfer of case management, victim consent, data protection, and capacity of receiving partner (psychosocial, case/social worker, legal).
outline required steps, responsibilities, documentation, and information
The TIATAS project aims to support this process of transnational European collaboration by moving the focus from a crime-centered to a survivor-centered approach in designing various tools for civil society organizations to ease their work. These tools should include
Standard Operating Procedures for referrals to services transnationally
Memorandums of Understanding for cross-country collaboration
A transnational service directory
All of these tools can easily be used by other organizations. These documents will include data protection forms and information on the processes started by a specialized counseling center in one country to avoid revictimisation. All tools are based on the analysis of existing cases and many years of experience in the field.
The TIATAS TRM tools will help
Improving assistance and protection of victims of trafficking
Reducing risks of revictimisation
Providing missing links between services and access to rights for VoTs in different countries
And while TIATAS is preparing its tools for organizations, the great work that has previously been done, should not go unmentioned.
Blossom’s story is in many ways a stereotypical picture of third country national victims of trafficking, mainly because of the described gender, national background and form of exploitation. Most existing policy recommendations, while still not prominent enough, focus on cases like Blossom’s. In fact, Blossom’s story also reflects the majority of cases encountered by many counseling centers, who, in turn, are often specialized on women victims of trafficking caught up in sex trafficking cases. Human trafficking can affect people of any nationality or gender and includes also other forms, such as forced labor, forced criminality or forced begging. It is neither “typical” nor bound to a certain legal status. Yet, some people are more at risk of being trafficked. The exploitation of third country national women in Europe, who are in vulnerable positions because of their unsecure legal status, lack of knowledge on their rights, dependency or lack of perspectives are deeply routed in both patriarchal and colonial oppression and are found mixed with racist stereotypes, which in turn, puts them at a greater risk of human trafficking.
* The character of Blossom is invented; however, Blossom’s story is a based on real several real cases
Xenia Koutentaki is an expert of adult education with over 20 years of experience and one of ARSIS oldest partner. As part of our cooperation in “Training of front-line service providers” in TIATAS Project, Xenia covers the topic of empowering professionals supporting VoT. We kindly asked her to answer some questions.
Xenia, we welcome you as a trainer in trafficking issues.
Based on your experience, what would you say are the characteristics that a practitioner should have in order to support effectively vulnerable groups?
I would say that knowledge about the phenomenon is crucial but not enough. Practitioners of any professional role, should have high empathetic skill, be able to observe attentively to notice the small but significant changes in people’s behavior and attitudes so as to be able to notice early enough the signs. Finally, and maybe the most important of all, they should be able to build genuine human relations based on trust and respect. This type of relationship will help the enormously both during the identification of potential or current VoT and the very demanding handling phase.
“Asylum seekers refuges and migrants are particularly vulnerable to Trafficking”
warned last year Members of European Parliament. Do you think that the current professionals, in the public and private sectors are gut educated to prevent and support VoT?
Trafficking is a complicated and dynamic phenomenon, and as such professionals need constantly to be educated and upgrade-update their knowledge and skills. Having said that and based on the data available, I would say that all the professionals especially those holding positions of power are in need of more training not so much on the level of knowledge but mostly on the one related to attitudes and behaviors.
Could you share with us an interesting moment from the TIATAS Training?
As this was our first training, I would say that participants are very eager and interested to learn more about the topic. I found very encouraging the expressed desire of all of them to take an active positive role in addressing the issue and offer concrete support to VoTs. What I found interesting was that the numbers related to trafficking were overwhelming for most of them and as educators we need to pay extra attention in supporting practitioners to overcome the feeling of powerless that these data might provoke.