The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Migration Analysis – A Progressive Anti-Trafficking Measure

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 6, 2011

A significant barrier to curbing human trafficking is the inability to verify its nature. Inaccurate data collection is linked to difficulties in defining human trafficking. Identifying ‘exploitation’ existing within the illegal trafficking process cannot be clearly distinguished from that existing in formal or legal migratory processes. Feminist studies note that anti-trafficking efforts, presently concentrated within a criminal justice framework, ought to be strengthened by analysing the links between migration and ‘exploitation’ in clandestine industries. This is an effective approach to make visible and mitigate the subjection of migrants to illegal ‘exploitation’.

While theoretically accepted, it is important that policy-makers recognise that human trafficking should be assessed subject to wider migration pressures. This is essential for the effective protection of victims of trafficking. For example, the dominant effect of anti-trafficking measures within the sex industry is the termination of the sex worker’s employment and consequently repatriates her to her country of origin. This approach is becoming untenable as it is emerging that the approach does not reconcile with the choices of many presumed victims of sex trafficking. Therefore, a migration analysis would allow a better understanding of the ‘agency’ of trafficked persons caught in the processes. This would question the effectiveness of criminalising those in the sex trade and may suggest that it is more effective to encourage efforts towards addressing the ‘exploitation’ or work conditions within the sex industry.

Encouragingly, the Asia-Pacific region is inching towards this approach in policy-making. The 4th Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime was held recently in Bali between 29 – 30 March 2011. A significant outcome of the negotiations was its emphasis on ‘managing migration’ to effectively address the varying problems and needs of persons subjected to the spectrum of irregular migration: economic migrants, human trafficking, people smuggling and asylum seekers.

Incorporating ‘managed migration’ into the Bali grouping’s efforts to curb human trafficking is a progressive anti-trafficking measure. The effectiveness of anti-trafficking measures dominated by law enforcement measures is widely debated. The inability of destination states to distinguish between political asylum seekers or persons smuggled such as in the case of the Rohingya from Myanmar, led to perilous living conditions for these people. These persons, experiencing an intermingled state of political and economic migration, are effectively ‘re-victimised’ by being subjected to criminal inquiry by law enforcement agencies.

The aim of the Bali grouping is formal recognition of the varying migrant categories and consequently promoting and supporting opportunities for orderly migration. Analysing the trends of human trafficking and smuggling from a migration lens will develop targeted knowledge of and sensitivity towards the varying categories of migrants, amongst states. This is to be achieved through greater engagement between countries in the region and relevant international organisations. The intention that this should inform infrastructure dealing with irregular migration is reflected in its Regional Cooperation Framework 2011.  The framework requires the establishment of consistent assessment processes for asylum seekers and to develop anti-trafficking measures with greater sensitivity to economic, social and political root causes. Essentially, if acted upon, this could be a substantial step towards reducing the number of migrants succumbing to illegal or ‘underground’ means of migration.


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