Targeting Vulnerabilities The Impact of the Syrian War and Refugee Situation on Trafficking in Persons

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The conflict and violence in Syria since 2011 have caused massive loss of life and human suffering, as well as a complex displacement crisis. Four of Syria’s neighbouring states are the most important hosting countries worldwide for refugees from the war-torn country. As of the end of September 2015, there are almost four million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq alone, whose registration is active with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In addition, over six and a half million Syrians are internally displaced within their own country. Not all Syrians and stateless people who have fled abroad have registered with UNHCR or the national authorities (NRC, April 2015a), and not all those internally displaced are recorded as such, therefore the figures are likely to be even higher in all cases. Apart from the violence itself, the conflict and attendant refugee crisis in neighbouring countries have led to increased impoverishment, informal “coping” economies and war profiteering, rendering people displaced by the crisis vulnerable to exploitation and different forms of trafficking in persons. Uncertainty prevails as to when the war in Syria will end and internally displaced people (IDPs) will be able to return to their homes, whether Syrian refugees abroad will be able to return to their country of origin, and for how long the hosting states will be able to meet the refugees’ needs in terms of providing access to basic services – accommodation, healthcare and education – and opportunities for income generation. As of mid-2014, the situation in Syria, as well as in parts of Iraq, has been further exacerbated by the seizure of large swathes of territory by Da’ish (ISIS/ISIL/IS),1 resulting in violence and further displacement of Syrian and Iraqi people, as well as of other people residing in those areas.

About the Study

This Study assesses the effects of the Syrian war and refugee crisis on trafficking in persons (TIP) in Syria and the surrounding region. The five countries under study - Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (with a focus on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq – KR-I) - were selected on the basis of the magnitude of refugee and internal displacement. While around 6.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria as of the time of writing (October 2015), to the north of Syria, Turkey hosts around 1.9 million registered Syrian refugees, mostly in the southeastern and southern Turkish provinces. At Syria’s western border, the second most important hosting country in absolute numbers, Lebanon, is currently hosting over 1.1 million registered Syrians. Syria borders Jordan to the south, which is currently hosting around 630,000 people who have fled from Syria. Finally, Syria shares its eastern border with Iraq, where the majority of Syrians in the country reside in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I),2 an autonomous region in the federal state, host to a total of around 250,000 Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, these numbers do not include people who have fled from Syria to the neighbouring countries, but are not registered as active with the UNHCR - nor, in the case of Turkey, with the national authorities. In addition, the situation is highly dynamic, with Syrian refugees newly arriving in host countries, moving outside the region, entering a situation of internal displacement within Syria and, in some cases, returning to Syria for various reasons. Throughout the text, the five countries under study are referred to by order of the size of the displaced Syrian population: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq.

The human trafficking phenomenon itself is the thematic focus of this research, which aims to understand the forms of trafficking in persons that are taking place and whom they affect, as well as who the perpetrators are, rather than examining anti-trafficking policies or initiatives. The forms of trafficking in the countries under study are the subject of investigation, as well as situations of vulnerability to trafficking, although reference is also made, where relevant, to trafficking from or through these countries. Relevant anti-trafficking legislation, institutions, policies and activities in the countries under study are briefly examined below, and throughout the rest of the Study are referred to only as and when relevant to understanding the trafficking phenomenon. This is driven by the conviction that the most important step in responding to the trafficking and exploitation of girls, boys, women and men is to first understand it. The chronological scope of the Study facilitates a comparison of the situation at the beginning of 2011, referred to throughout as the baseline date, with the situation throughout 2011-2015 inclusive, in order to assess the effects of the conflict. To better understand the situation prior to the outbreak of the war, the Study covers the decade 2001-2010, which is referred to as the baseline period. As set out below in the section on Methodology, the analysis of the baseline period principally draws on secondary research and data, while primary sources were also consulted for the period since the outbreak of the war. Research commenced in late 2014, with all of the field research taking place in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq during 2015. 

About the Project

This Study is the result of a research project to assess the impact of the Syrian war and refugee crisis on trafficking in persons in Syria and the surrounding region, making feasible recommendations to respond to its findings. The overall goal is to increase and enhance knowledge on the impact of the Syrian war and refugee crisis on TIP in Syria and the countries most affected by the attendant refugee movement (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq). The project: “Assessment of the Impact of the Syrian War and Refugee Crisis on Trafficking in Persons (AIS-TIP)” is funded by the US Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) and is being implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), an international organisation with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. 

The research was carried out by a coordination team based at ICMPD in Vienna, with five country researchers who conducted country-specific desk and field research on Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. This Study has also been subject to two rounds of external and internal (ICMPD) peer review. Through the publication and dissemination of this Study, the project aims to contribute to strengthening the response to trafficking in persons by relevant actors operating in the region, by providing the reliable knowledge and data necessary to inform emergency and short-term actions to address trafficking in persons and vulnerability to trafficking, and drawing recommendations for mid- to long-term anti-trafficking activities to meet the needs of identified and unidentified victims of trafficking, as well as other groups vulnerable to TIP in the region and beyond. The project commenced in October 2014 and the field research was carried out from January to October 2015, with the launch of the final Study at an International Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in December 2015. During the first half of 2016, the Recommendations that comprise chapter 7 of this Study will be discussed, expanded upon and adapted, where necessary. A series of workshops will be organised for this purpose in the hosting countries under study and outside the region, in order to build upon the country-specific findings of the research. Structure of the Study The Study consists of the following chapters:

Chapter One: Introduction This first chapter of the Study explains the terms used and the research methodology that was applied, as well as comprising the literature review and relevant legislative and institutional framework at international level and in the countries under study.

Chapter Two: Migration and Trafficking during the Baseline Period The second chapter analyses the situation in terms of migration and trafficking during the decade prior to the Syrian war, in order to provide an indication of the baseline conditions.

Chapter Three: Displacement Context, 2011-2015 Chapter Three details the current context of international and internal displacement and migration of Syrians and other affected groups. 

Chapter Four: Situations of Vulnerability to Trafficking in Persons Chapter four examines situations of vulnerability to trafficking in persons. Chapter Five: Impact on Human Trafficking in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq The fifth chapter is the main focus of this Study – the impact of the Syrian war and refugee crisis on trafficking in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Chapter Six: Conclusions and Recommendations The Study closes with the conclusions of the research, and recommendations for responses based on the research findings.


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258 pages

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International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)

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JMDI publication