- Widespread disruption of trafficking routes for illegal drugs, mainly by air and on land increases prices of illicit drugs
- Pandemic creates new opportunities for organized crime to profit
- “Human trafficking is the result of the failure of our societies and economies to protect the most vulnerable”, UNODC chief
- Migrants in serious crises
- United Nations Office on Drugs Control, UNODC says its partners report that due to the pandemic, more children are being forced onto the streets to search for food and money, thus increasing their risk of exploitation. School closures have not only blocked access to education but also a source of shelter and food for millions of children. The UN recently reported that some 370 million students worldwide are now missing out on school meals, often their only reliable source of nutrition.
Elsewhere, a UN independent human rights expert has underlined the urgent need for child protection services during the pandemic. Mama Fatima Singhateh, fears the reported surge in violence against children, coupled with new forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, will have “devastating” lifelong implications for millions of youngsters worldwide. Even before the crisis, as many as 66 million children were already living in “a precarious socio-economic situation”, according to Ms. Singhateh, who is the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
‘Drive-thru’ services for child sexual exploitation: Ms. Singhateh said travel restrictions have spawned new ways to sexually exploit and abuse children, such as attempts to establish “delivery” or “drive-thru” services. There has also been a spike in people trying to access illegal websites featuring child pornography. “Producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities”, said Ms. Singhateh. In common with all the UN’s independent rights experts, she is not a UN staff member nor does she receive a salary from the Organization.
Organized crime could benefit: UNODC warned that the pandemic has also created new opportunities for organized crime to profit. “Traffickers may become more active and prey on people who are even more vulnerable than before, because they have lost their source of income due to measures to control the virus”, said Mr. Chatzis, chief of the agency’s Human Trafficking Section. Some countries have diverted resources meant for fighting crime to the battle to defeat COVID-19. At the same time, services to assist trafficking victims are being reduced or even shut down.
World at higher risks – COVID-19 surges Illicit drugs, human trafficking, illegal migration
COVID-19 surges Illicit drugs, human trafficking, illegal migration Lockdowns, travel restrictions, resource cutbacks and other measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus are putting victims of human trafficking at risk of further exploitation, while organized crime networks could further profit from the pandemic, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Measures by governments across the world to curb the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the widespread disruption of trafficking routes for illegal drugs, mainly by air and on land, upping some prices, according to a new UN report published on yesterday. The report, on drug market trends during the coronavirus crisis, published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted that many countries across all regions have reported an overall shortage of numerous types of drugs at the street level, as well as price increases for consumers on the black market and reductions in purity. New analysis from the agency shows that the crisis is having an impact on the lives of trafficking victims before, during and even after their ordeal.
“With COVID-19 restricting movement, diverting law enforcement resources, and reducing social and public services, human trafficking victims have even less chance of escape and finding help”, said Ghada Fathi Waly, the UNODC Executive Director. As countries have closed their borders due to the pandemic, some victims are unable to return home. Others face delays in legal proceedings, as well as a reduction in the support and protection they rely on. Some are also in danger of further abuse or neglect by their captors.
“Human trafficking is the result of the failure of our societies and economies to protect the most vulnerable”, said Ilias Chatzis, chief of the UNODC section that works to combat this crime. “They should not be additionally ‘punished’ during times of crisis.” “So it’s alarming to hear that, in some places, trafficking victims no longer have access to shelters, some refuges have even closed down due to the virus and others lack protective equipment – putting both victims and staff at risk.”
UNODC steps up support
As the pandemic deepens, UNODC is constantly monitoring the situation through its network of field offices and global partners. It is also ramping up support, such as helping anti-trafficking units to get protective equipment, and assisting countries in evaluating the impact of the crisis on resources for victims, law enforcement and justice systems. “As we work together to overcome the global pandemic, countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime”, said Ms. Waly, the agency’s chief.
UNODC further recommends that governments act to ensure that while current restrictions on travel and freedom of movement are respected, access to essential services for victims of human trafficking is guaranteed without discrimination. Some drug users have consequently been switching substances, for example from heroin to synthetic opioids, and some are increasingly seeking accessing to drug treatment. Meth, cocaine, heroin, cannabis Because synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine, known commonly as meth, tend to be trafficked across continents by air, air travel restrictions and flight cancellations are drastically impacting the illegal cargo. Cocaine, on the other hand, is mostly trafficked by sea, and is continuing to be dtected in European ports during the pandemic, said the report.
Meanwhile, opiate seizures in the Indian Ocean illustrate that the pandemic’s impact on the lucrative heroin business, which is primarily smuggled by land, is pushing it towards being trafficked along maritime routes. Given that cannabis is often produced near places where it is bought and sold, traffickers of the drug – which is mostly still illegal worldwide – are less reliant on shipping it across regions and borders which may be under coronavirus lockdown.
With several countries reporting drug shortages at the retail level, the UNODC analysis projects an overall decrease in recreational drug consumption. However, a shortage of heroin, which has been reported in Europe, South West Asia, North America and some countries in Europe, can trigger consumers to use harmful, domestically produced substances instead.
UNODC maintained that some users may switch to fentanyl and its derivatives. An increase in pharmaceutical products, such as benzodiazepines, has also been reportedly doubling their prices in some areas. And drug shortages are increasing the number of intravenous users who are also sharing injection equipment – all of which carry the risk of spreading diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and COVID-19 itself. “The risk of drug overdose may also increase among those injecting drugs and who are infected with COVID-19”, according to UNODC.
COVID-19 crisis putting human trafficking victims at risk of further exploitation, experts warn
Migrants stranded ‘all over the world’ and at risk from coronavirus
Thousands of migrants have been stranded “all over the world” where they face a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection, the head of UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. “Health is the new wealth,” António Vitorino insisted, citing proposals by some countries to introduce so-called immunity passports and use mobile phone apps that are designed to prevent the spread of new coronavirus.
The IOM Director General also warned that in future, even more onerous health-related travel restrictions might discriminate disproportionately against migrant workers. “In lots of countries in the world, we already have a system of screening checks to identify the health of migrants, above all malaria, tuberculosis…HIV-AIDS, and now I believe that there will be increased demands in health controls for regular migrants,” he said.
Already, travel restrictions to try to limit the spread of the pandemic had left people on the move more vulnerable than ever and unable to work to support themselves, Mr. Vitorino told journalists via videoconference. “There are thousands of stranded migrants all over the world,” he said. “In South-East Asia, in East Africa, in Latin America, because of the closing of the borders and with the travel restrictions, lots of migrants who were on the move; some of them wanted to return precisely because of the pandemic.”
Blocked at borders.
He added: They are blocked, some in large groups, some in small groups, in the border areas, in very difficult conditions, without access to minimal care, especially health screening….We have been asking the Governments to allow the humanitarian workers and the health workers to have access to (them).” Turning to Venezuelan migrants, who are believed to number around five million amid a worsening economic crisis in the country, the IOM chief explained that “thousands…have lost their jobs in countries like Ecuador and Colombia and are returning back to Venezuela in large crowds without any health screening and being quarantined when they go back.”
In a statement, IOM highlighted the plight of migrants left stranded in the desert in west, central, and eastern Africa, either after having been deported without due process, or abandoned by smugglers. To help them, agency teams continue to conduct search and rescue in the desert, provide shelter, health assistance and support to hundreds of stranded migrants every week.
Preventing infection in camps
Preventing infection in camps
Coronavirus Portal & News Updates
IOM’s immediate priorities for migrants include ensuring that they have access to health care and other basic social welfare assistance in their host country. Among the UN agency’s other immediate concerns is preventing the spread of new coronavirus infection in the more than 1,100 camps that it manages across the world. They include the Cox’s Bazar complex in Bangladesh, home to around one million mainly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, the majority having fled persecution that was likened to ethnic cleansing by former top UN rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. So far, no cases of infection have been reported there, the IOM chief said, adding that preventative measures had been communicated to hundreds of thousands of camp residents, while medical capacity has been boosted.
Social distancing ‘unthinkable’
On the situation of migrants in camps on the Greek mainland – IOM does not work on the islands which are home to migrants and refugees crossing the Eastern Mediterranean waters from Turkey – Mr. Vitorino said that some 200 cases of infection had been identified. He described social distancing measures as “unthinkable” and added that “access to water and sanitation is quite a challenge”. Beyond the immediate health threat of COVID-19 infection, migrants also face growing stigmatization from which they need protection, Mr. Vitorino insisted.
Migrants are key workers
Allowing hate speech and xenophobic narratives to thrive unchallenged also threatens to undermine the public health response to COVID-19, he said, before noting that migrant workers make up a significant percentage of the health sector in many developed countries including the UK, the U.S. and Switzerland. Populist narratives targeting migrants as carriers of disease could also destabilise national security through social upheaval and countries’ post-COVID economic recovery, the IOM chief continued, by removing critical workers in agriculture and service industries.
Remittances have already seen a 30pc drop during the pandemic, Mr Vitorino said, citing World Bank data, meaning that some $20 billion has not been sent home to families in countries where up to 15 per cent of their gross domestic product comes from pay packets earned abroad.
In a plea for the health of migrants to be given as much attention as that of host populations in all countries, Mr. Vitorino also noted that Governments which did not monitor them, risked having to resume lockdown measures.
Mr. Vitorino added: “It is quite clear that health is the new wealth and that health concerns will be introduced in the mobility systems – not just for migration – but as a whole; where travelling for business or professional reasons, health will be the new gamechanger in town.” “If the current pandemic leads to a two or even three-tier mobility system, then we will have to tried to solve the problem – the problem of the pandemic – but at the same time we have created a new problem of deepening the inequalities.”
Part of IOM’s core work is to voluntarily repatriate migrants in difficulty, including those affected by the pandemic. To do so, the agency seeks funding and works in partnership with Governments which ask for assistance. “We have requests from a number of countries in the region to help repatriating those migrants to their countries of origin, whether it is Mozambique or Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria,” Mr. Vitorino said. “As you know, IOM works very much on the basis of projects, so we do not have the financial capacity to help countries to repatriate their citizens unless there is funding available to do that.”