Aviation is a great enabler of connections between people and businesses across the globe. On the flip side, human traffickers take advantage of the ease and speed of this growing connectivity, travelling by air being their most commonly used mode of transport. During the summer, airports & airlines launched a campaign to highlight the issue and the steps that need to be taken to address it. Agata Lyznik reports.
Human trafficking is far more prevalent, complex and close to home than most of us realise. What is it, in a nutshell? It’s a crime that entails the use of force, fraud or coercion to reap substantial benefit from another person’s labour in exchange for little or no pay. Most often, the victims are smuggled into a State illegally and threatened not only by the perpetrator, but also by the legal consequences of such entry, exacerbating their susceptibility to exploitation. For that reason, human trafficking is often referred to as modern day slavery.
Virtually every country in the world is affected by this crime, either as a country of origin, transit, or destination for the nearly 25 million people that are illegally trafficked every year. The challenge is to target the criminals who exploit people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life. Since it’s a transnational crime, many victims pass through airports and onto international flights. Frequently, air travel is their last trace.
Unlike other illegal smuggling activities that rely on cargo, which can be searched or scanned, human trafficking often hides in plain sight. To that end, airports and airlines are among the industries that can help to combat these crimes, both through the training of their own staff in recognising and dealing with trafficking situations and by providing information to the public to raise awareness.
In support of the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July 2018, airports and airlines came together to assume their critical role in this fight. Airports Council International (ACI) World and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed their determination to assist authorities by reporting suspected human trafficking cases, and making it as difficult as possible for the global air transport network to be exploited for this evil trade. The industry has committed to raise awareness, help to train staff to recognise the signs of trafficking, and put in place reporting protocols to alert the appropriate authorities.
Every year thousands of human trafficking cases are reported, but many more go unnoticed, because human trafficking is such a hidden crime. Victims might be afraid to come forward or people may not be able to recognise the signs, even if it’s happening right in front of them. For this reason, raising awareness is critical in helping to combat this heinous crime. With this in mind, ACI and IATA have launched the #eyesopen campaign, inviting people to add an overlay to their profile pictures on Facebook stating “I have my #eyesopen on #humantrafficking” and share the resources available for airline and airport employees, such as the guidelines and training available on the websites of both associations.
“People trafficking is an appalling crime which we should do all we can to combat. The safety and security of passengers remains all airports’ number one priority and the airport community is determined to work with border authorities and our partners across the world in helping to put a stop to this activity. We stand together with our airline colleagues in keeping our eyes open to the signs of human trafficking. Many of our airport members are already demonstrating their commitment to the campaign. We continue to strengthen our combined efforts in awareness, training, and reporting,” said Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World.
The reach of the week-long launch campaign led by IATA and ACI has been extended by many influential institutions and individuals spreading the word, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Anita Mendiratta (Special Advisor to Secretary General of United Nations World Tourism Organisation) and Mira Sorvino (Oscar-winning actress and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador).
More than 40 international news publications reported on the campaign, helping to raise awareness about this joint industry effort. But this is merely the beginning of a process that will require dedication and persistence – more vigilant pairs of eyes are needed to tip the balance if we are to put an end to human trafficking for good.