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.
Like a large number of survivors of trafficking without proper assistance, also Blossom ended up with her former traffickers again. Only after some years, she manages to establish contact with an Italian counseling center. Today, for Blossom the journey to retell her story, go through lengthy risk and needs assessments and trauma therapy will start anew.
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