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Perfect Storm of Vulnerability Risks Leads People into Human Trafficking, New Study Finds

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Two-year IOM, University of Bedfordshire study examined the vulnerabilities to human trafficking for Albanians, Vietnamese and Nigerians. © IOM/Malavolta

London – Vulnerability to human trafficking and modern slavery is influenced by overlapping and interconnected risk factors which cut across individual, household, family, community and structural dynamics, according to a new study.

The two-year study by the University of Bedfordshire and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) examined the dynamics and vulnerabilities to human trafficking as experienced by citizens of Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria, and the support needs of people who survived trafficking and are now in the United Kingdom.

Twenty-five per cent of the 6,993 people who were identified by the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2018 as potential victims of human trafficking were from Albania (947 people), Viet Nam (702 people) and Nigeria (208 people).

“Limited financial, educational, employment and healthcare services within communities create a mismatch between aspirations and realistic opportunities to improve standards of living in their countries,” said Patrick Burland, an IOM Senior Project Officer in London. “This leads people to make desperate decisions, often driving them into the hands of human traffickers.”

The study, Between Two Fires – which is being presented in UK Parliament today (26 March) – highlights the personal testimonies of trafficked persons to understand vulnerability to trafficking, and the routes and journeys from Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria. The report also captures their reflections on the kind of support that is needed for a trafficked person’s effective recovery.

One Vietnamese male told a researcher about his journey: “I’ve been beaten up so many times, I'm so scared, plus they don’t feed me properly. They gave me scarcest food and drink, [only enough] for me to survive.”

According to the study, vulnerability can be gender-specific when harmful social norms and practices exist and intersect with human trafficking. One trafficked woman from Albania described her vulnerabilities before she was trafficked: “My family abandoned me because I was pregnant. For six months I lived with my boyfriend, the father of my child… He left without telling me and I did not know where he was. After I gave birth to my son, I did not have anywhere to stay and to live. I did not have any income.”

Journeys often begin with rational decision-making based on limited or unreliable information about costs, length, dangers, legal requirements, alternatives, or situation en route and at destination. Once journeys begin, they can become progressively precarious with individuals finding themselves in new, rapidly changing vulnerable situations.

Dr. Patricia Hynes from the University of Bedfordshire, Principal Investigator for the study, explained that the title of the report, Between Two Fires, came from a direct quote from a young Albanian woman describing how she had actively resisted the situation of vulnerability she found herself in but then ended up in a much more difficult and exploitative situation.

“In the accounts we heard this was consistently the case, with people trying to resolve their own circumstances but then encountering structural and exploitative circumstances either en-route or in destination countries,” said Dr. Hynes. “It is important we understand these complex back stories and use this understanding to provide longer-term support to those requiring protection in the UK.”

To address these wide-ranging vulnerabilities and prevent human trafficking, the report recommends enhancing protection activities associated with the home, family and intra-familial environments, along with interventions that challenge traditional attitudes about gender and violence against women and girls. It also recommends developing interventions to address stigmas in household and community settings, and the provision of support at key stages along journeys to the UK, especially on the route from Viet Nam.

For survivors supported in the UK, the report recommends enhanced mental health and legal support; strengthening of detection and screening processes in the UK’s criminal justice system; and reviewing policy issues impacting the long-term provision of support affecting recovery and protection.

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For more information, please contact Abby Dwommoh at IOM UK, Tel: +44 (0)7873301193, Email: