States around the world must act now to protect migrants from traffickers by putting in place innovative measures to identify as early as possible those who are at risk, says a UN rights expert.
"People trafficking is a gross human rights violation which is often linked with mixed migration movements, but there has been little early identification and help for victims or those at risk," said Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.
She said early identification, protection and referral of victims of trafficking to appropriate specialised services is not perceived as a priority during large influx of migrants, according to a message received from Geneva.
Any failure to identify a trafficked person results in a further denial of that person's rights, the expert stressed.
Her report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva focuses on the main challenges of early identification, and the need for assistance throughout the migration process for those who are most vulnerable.
"At present, in places where migrants first arrive, they are fingerprinted and procedures are in place only to distinguish asylum seekers from so-called economic migrants. But vulnerable migrants should also be identified, and robust procedures put in place along migrant routes to identify and help those who are being trafficked or are at risk of it," Giammarinaro said.
The expert pointed to various forms of exploitation, including trafficking, that migrants are exposed to in transit and destination countries, drawing examples from various regions of the world.
"Exploitation of migrants in the labour market is often culturally accepted, hampering the perception of its gravity in the context of trafficking," she said.
"Urgent and effective action is needed to prevent abusive recruitment and associated practices, and to give access to the regular labour market to refugees and migrants being exploited," she stressed.
The expert also expressed concern about the challenges faced by migrants forced to return home, and the importance of establishing procedures to assess the risk of trafficking and identify victims of trafficking before any decision on return.
"It is alarming that European Union states are de facto delegating such procedures to a regional institution such as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX), while the final decision about migrants to be returned remains with State authorities. This often nullifies efforts to integrate a human rights component in the decision-making process," said Giammarinaro.
The expert made clear that identification of those at risk is just the first step of the process, with the second being referral to appropriate services, and the final goal is social inclusion in the host society.