Human Trafficking Among Refugees: What Can You Do?

Human trafficking is a deep-seated problem in refugee communities. Traveling to a refugee camp is a perilous journey for displaced people. However, making it to a refugee camp does not guarantee safety or security. Many problems pervade the camps, including human trafficking.

Burmese refugees fleeing to Thailand through the Thai/Burma border are regularly at risk of being trafficked. Often, refugees seek the aid of a “carrier” to transport them over the border into Thailand. These carriers charge unaffordable amounts of money for transport. As a result, many refugees are left waiting along the border, where they are incredibly vulnerable to traffickers who lure them with offers of work.

Those who make it to refugee camps along the border regularly fall victim to trafficking as well. Burmese refugees are often unable to get sufficient incomes to support themselves or their families. Human traffickers take advantage of this, luring refugees out of camps and into forced labor, where they are forced to work without pay.

Trafficked children are often used in begging gangs. If they do not get enough money for their trafficker, they are punished with further violence and cruelty. Many young girls and women are forced into domestic labor and prostitution. All the while, these people receive little or no pay for their work. Many never escape trafficking, those who do recount cruel and brutal experiences:

“An international NGO reported that it was aware of five girls that had been trafficked out of the camps four or five years ago. The girls were forced to do domestic work. It reported that the family for whom she was forced to work murdered one of the girls. Two other girls ran away. The girls reported that they worked 17-hour days and were only fed twice a day.”

–  Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2006


There are a number of ways for a refugee to be caught in trafficking. Some are trafficked while looking for a carrier to take them into Thailand. Others are in fact sent to traffickers by people living within the camps.

“At the beginning of 2004, a 17-year-old girl left the camp premises. She was approached by an acquaintance who asked if she needed work. The woman then sold her to a group of men. The men took her to a guesthouse where she was raped.

–  Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2006

One of the greatest problems in battling human trafficking among refugees is a widespread lack of awareness. It is hard to learn how many camp-based refugees are trafficked, as most are trafficked after having left the camp. Furthermore, some families are unwilling to report disappearances in some camps, for fear of losing much needed supply rations or facing further repercussions at the hands of local authorities. Some families hide the fact that a member has been trafficked out of shame. With people turning a blind eye to the problem, traffickers are able to abuse refugees with ease.

Improving living conditions and raising awareness of human trafficking among refugees is a crucial step in creating better conditions for refugees in camps. Local NGOs are working hard to raise such awareness. As an example, the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO), working in Thai/Burmese refugee camps, has been distributing educational pamphlets in order to inform refugees of the danger of human trafficking.

For its part, RIJ is funding a number of projects in these camps that allow refugees to improve their own lives. These projects include educational programs, and other joint-funded programs such as DARE training for refugees as Addiction Workers within camps:

Trafficking is an immense problem that refugees regularly face both inside and outside the walls of refugee camps. You can help by spreading awareness of the dangers that refugees face. Donating to NGO’s that assist in empowering refugees will also help.

Raising awareness encourages a demand for action. If you would like to learn more about human trafficking among refugees, have a look at this site:

Or if you would like to donate directly to RIJ’s refugee projects, click here:

A refugee’s path to rebuilding a life is incredibly difficult. You can truly help by raising awareness. Remember, awareness encourages a demand for action. If you are aware, you can act by giving to their cause. Help them build for themselves a new and better life.

William Mawhinney


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