Refugees of natural disasters face another peril

Recent natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria put displaced people at heightened risk for human trafficking.

Sister Jean Schafer, SDS publishes the STOP Trafficking Newsletter in collaboration with U.S. Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking. This faith-based network paints a sobering picture: “In June 2014, the number of refugees worldwide exceeded 50 million children, women and men. Half of these refugees are children, many traveling alone or in groups. Millions of these refugees are people displaced because of environmental disasters.

“Women and children are especially vulnerable during any forced displacement, and they are at risk for gender-based violence and human trafficking. Many children are separated from their families during an environmental disaster.”

According to the UNHCR (also known as the UN Refugee Agency), children count for more than half of these refugees. When unaccompanied by a trusted adult, they become prime targets for traffickers. Tragically, areas of the world most impacted by climate disasters are the least likely to have resources to protect their people.

Polaris Project, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that strives to combat and prevent human trafficking, explains how natural disasters set the stage: “While every human trafficking victim is different, a common thread they share is the presence of a vulnerability that traffickers exploit. Those vulnerabilities are rampant in the aftermath of natural disasters.”  Homelessness is one of the top risk factors reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by survivors recruited by traffickers near shelters or help centers. People will deal with hardships stemming from the latest natural disasters for a long time. For that reason, anti-trafficking efforts must be part of the long-term recovery efforts.

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