Home / Feature / The legitimate victim status of migrants

The legitimate victim status of migrants

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:


Human trafficking is the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain. What trafficking really means is girls groomed and forced into sexual exploitation; men tricked into accepting risky job offers and trapped in forced labour in building sites, farms or factories; and women recruited to work in private homes only to be trapped, exploited and abused behind closed doors with no way out. People don’t have to be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. In fact, transporting or moving the victim doesn’t define trafficking it can take place within a single country, or even within a single community. People can be trafficked and exploited in many forms, including being forced into sexual exploitation, labour, begging,crime domestic servitude, marriage or organ removal. People trapped by traffickers are mostly trying to escape poverty or discrimination, improve their lives and support their families.Vulnerable people are often forced to take unimaginable risks to try and escape poverty or persecution,accepting precarious job offers and making hazardous migration decisions, often borrowing money from their traffickers in advance.When they arrive they find that the work does not exist, or conditions are completely different. They become trapped, reliant on their traffickers and extremely vulnerable. Their documents are often taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off.We believe in a world where vulnerable people can find opportunities to provide for their families in safety and dignity, including safe migration mechanisms.

The refugee crisis in Europe touches on fundamental issues of international law, criminal policy, criminology and victimology. Public perception of and opinions on human trafficking, human smuggling and the situation of migrants in general is in a state of flux; perceptions and opinions are heavily influenced by media depictions and highly dependent on the general political climate of a society. Political, public and even academic debates are often polarizing events that are characterized by stereotypical arguments. In the course of such debates, distinct phenomena such as trafficking (THB) and smuggling of humans are often mixed to the point that differences between the two become increasingly blurred.The treatment of migrants under international law is equally ambivalent. The two main phenomena of interest for criminal policy trafficking versus the smuggling of humans are addressed in the two amending Protocols to the 2000 UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Convention): the Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking, and the Protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air. In the latter text, migrants are perceived as offenders rather than victims, in particular in the context of illegal smuggling. This is due to the fact that they represent the demand side of the illegal smuggling services, and it is this demand that is considered to be the main incentive for this branch of organised crime.This approach is reflected in the design of the related national statutory offences in which the migrants appear as co-perpetrators. Moreover, many jurisdictions have adopted a concept in which the illegal entry is the principal crime whereas human smuggling is legally designated as assistance aiding and abetting to the crime of the migrant.

This concept is traceable even in those penal codes in which the assisting part has, in the meantime, been upgraded to a principal crime.

However, the current legal situation neither the international legal framework nor the statutory provisions implemented in major jurisdictions does not reflect the victimological reality of migration. The distinction between trafficking and smuggling creates a significant divide in the treatment of victims. The same is true in regard to public, political and academic discussions which tend to neglect the reality of migration, which is characterized by the fact that not only victims of human trafficking but migrants in general are explicitly vulnerable and exposed to a multitude of victimization risks.Bangladesh is one of the top 10 countries from where people migrate to seek better fortunes abroad. In doing so, they sacrifice everything with only one hope to improve their condition and that of their dependents. But when does one give one’s last penny to go abroad looking for a job? What should one make of our economic and social conditions when, according to the chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, nearly three quarters of a million Bangladeshis choose to migrate abroad every year?Unfortunately, the more vulnerable among the migrants fall prey to local and foreign traffickers, getting themselves into all kinds of horrid situations. Of relatively recent innovation is migrants being taken hostage by the foreign traffickers, into whose clutches these unfortunate fortune seekers land ultimately. The international syndicates with whom the local syndicates have a deep link demand money from their relatives in Bangladesh in return for their freedom. Unfortunately, many of the trafficked victims go missing altogether.

Illegal migration and human trafficking one of the most serious socio-economic problems has sullied our image abroad as a developing country and brought into question our development priorities.Unfortunately, employment at home has become quite scarce and more expensive than getting a job outside the country, for which people are willing to risk their lives even. But there is a lack of due diligence on the part of various agencies of the government to stop this phenomenon.It is unfortunate that the families of 21 victims of illegal trafficking. But have not yet found redress of their complaints even after a year and a half since cases were filed in 2019. And that is because the investigating agencies have not been able to collect enough evidence to proceed with the cases.There are certain realities that must be acknowledged if this scourge is to be efficiently addressed. We must purge from our minds that it is only the indigent and the illiterate who seek employment abroad. The fact is, many well-educated individuals with university degrees are among the 700,000 or so illegal migrants who leave the county every year. It’s economics that acts as the driving factor. Paying bribes for a job at home is much costlier than what the syndicates ask for to get them to their chosen destinations. There is both the demand and supply side of the phenomenon. It is a myth that there is no demand for blue collar jobs outside. The reality is, according to experts, there is as much demand for menial and lowly paid jobs as there are for white collar jobs in many countries. The administration should not disown those Bangladeshis who are languishing in various countries, having gone there illegally. They are our citizens and must be brought back at least for the sake of investigation.

In many countries, recruiters are subject to little or no regulation, so they continue to charge migrants high fees, sometimes repayable at high interest rates, simply to connect them with available jobs.Tied visas that give employers undue control over their workers’ living conditions, or that prevent migrants from switching jobs without permission, can create an environment of dependence that can be readily exploited by unscrupulous employers.It is vital governments provide meaningful protection for people fleeing repressive regimes, violence and conflict. Research indicates these situations increase migrants’ vulnerability to modern slavery. We call on all governments to create safer migration pathways, provide protection for vulnerable people and bolster the capacity of first responders in crisis situations, Jenn Morris, chief executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free initiative.In today’s global economy, the movement of people is inevitable, and we have to find ways to achieve migration safely and humanely. This report points to a number of practical steps that governments can take to increase protection of vulnerable migrants, such as ensuring national child protection laws apply to all children, including child migrants, closing gaps in labour laws in high risk sectors like domestic work, and prohibiting charging of recruitment fees,” said Fiona David, lead author of the report and Research Chair, Minderoo Foundation.Without action to address the drivers of unsafe migration and to step up protection and assistance to migrants, many migrants will be trafficked and otherwise abused. We need to do the hard work to create safe migration pathways that better reflect the realities of migration and labour markets, as well as balance the needs of national interests and migrant rights.

Need for more political support of migrant victims.This short article has shown that all groups of migrants are explicitly vulnerable and, at the same time, exposed to increased risks of victimization. It is not too speculative to assume that only a very small minority of migrants have never suffered from any victimization throughout their odyssey. On the contrary, many of their personal biographies would disclose horrible records of victimization and trauma experienced at home, during transit and even later in their place of destination. In addition to specific risks related to their status as migrants, they also face the same risk as any other citizens of becoming victims of conventional crimes which have not been specifically highlighted here.This obvious distinction between the two groups of victims certainly contributes to the public perception that migrants are criminals. More generally, they do not meet the common stereotype of the ideal victim. Unlike victims of THB who enjoy a privileged status of protection, ordinary migrants can at best enjoy general standards of victim assistance and victim protection effective at their destination at least in jurisdictions in which access to protection has not been barred for victims who have been involved in any kind of illegal activity before. Otherwise, it can happen that the legitimate victim status of migrants is denied just for the fact of having passed a state border illegally. This is in contradiction to one of the basic principles of justice for victims according to which the same victim rights shall be applicable to all. Ultimately, the question is whether a politically motivated differentiation into two groups with two different standards of protection can be justified, especially in light of the enormous victimization risks to which all migrants are exposed.

Writer and Columnist

[email protected]