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Focus areas

La Strada International advocates for the rights of trafficked persons, as well as those vulnerable for exploitation and trafficking. To ensure accountability for the effective implementation of policies and regulations, La Strada International advocates for legislation that fully recognizes and respects the rights of people and monitors implementation of policies and laws to ensure rights are realized.

The Platform targets European and international governmental bodies for the promotion of rights protection. For the coming five years (2021 – 2025) La Strada International has defined its strategic focus areas. For each of these focus areas concrete strategies are defined and actions taken.

icon unconditional support

Unconditional support

Currently access to support for victims of human trafficking is closely tied with the criminal justice system and successful prosecution of perpetrators. Practice shows that victims have limited access to protection, support and assistance if they are not able or willing to cooperate with the authorities, or if the criminal procedure has not started or is discontinued. Moreover, victims are often still required to give statements to authorities, before being able to recover and make an informed decision. Increasingly we see in many European countries, that the reflection and recovery period is not offered to presumed trafficked persons, especially when authorities suspect that no sufficient evidence might be found for the start of a successful prosecution and when persons have a ‘Dublin claim’.

European countries hold different views of what might constitute a victim. In some countries victims are only registered as such if they agree to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers or if they consider themselves to be victims. If they do not ‘tick all the boxes’ or they are unable to cooperate with the authorities, these persons fall outside the ‘Anti-Trafficking frame’ and have often no access to legal right provisions. Absence of adequate assistance and support may prevent trafficked persons from reporting to the authorities and may subject them to further trauma and re-victimisation, while experience shows recognition and protection of the rights of trafficked persons act as an important incentive to report the crime and give a testimony.

icon identification of all formsIdentification of all forms

The number of identified victims of human trafficking in Europe remains low. Only a small percentage of the estimated high amount of victims is identified. Many persons, facing severe forms of exploitation – with clear indications for human trafficking – are not recognized as victims of trafficking. Moreover we continue to see a narrow focus of attention for persons trafficked for sexual exploitation and lacking commitment and priority to identify other forms of human trafficking.

Even though trafficking for sexual exploitation, is still the most detected and reported form of human trafficking in Europe, there are clear indications and evidence for the frequent occurrence of other severe forms of exploitation in other regulated and unregulated labour sectors, like agriculture, construction, domestic work etc. When other irregular and regular sectors continue to receive less policy attention, and fewer efforts are made to control these sectors and their workforce; the identification of vulnerable, exploited and trafficked persons in these sectors will continue to lack behind. There is also hardly any information on  trafficking for forced criminality and or forced organ donations in Europe.

icon safe reportingSafe reporting

Adequate safe reporting and effective complaints mechanisms to report exploitation and access justice, are lacking in most European countries. In many countries, people who are undocumented face arrest, detention, and deportation if they approach the police to report violence or abuse. Rather than offering help, authorities frequently deny their right to protection and assistance, and enforce – or threaten to enforce – punitive measures instead.  A clear ‘firewall’ will allow workers to safely file a complaint to police or labour authorities and courts, and get access to services and justice, without facing immigration enforcement as a result.

This would empower workers, uphold fundamental rights, tackle abuses, and promote fair business practice. It would also ensure that all cases are properly investigated, that perpetrators are held to account, and all victims can come forward. Further increased efforts should be made by States to provide information in at least the most common languages of countries of origin and ensure wide dissemination by various stakeholders, including civil society to ensure that migrant workers know their rights and can exercise them effectively.

icon access to residenceAccess to Residence

The laws or policies determining which trafficked persons are granted residence permits vary substantially between different European countries and there are huge differences between the numbers of identified victims and issued residence permits. In general the number of persons receiving residence and long term support is low. Practice further shows that the Dublin Convention can and does overrule the protection of trafficked people. This results in limited time being allocated to investigate the case, since the Dublin convention is priority.

The sovereignty clause is not systematically applied in a systematic manner in several European countries. When there is an assumption that return to Dublin member states is save, even presumed victims of trafficking are returned to their first country or entry, often without the chance to report the crime and the start of a legal procedure. Vulnerable persons are sent back – even with little children – to places they were exploited before and where it is very likely they won’t have access to specialized, adequate assistance. Sending states should conduct risk assessments and be obliged to inform the receiving state about the indications for victimhood and the need to support the person.

icon fair migration policiesFair Migration Policies

While the Member States and the European Council and Commission have recognised the need for regulated international migration channels for (highly) skilled labour, they remain reluctant to publicly acknowledge their dependence on low-paid and informal forms of migrant labour. Moreover, anti-Trafficking policies are often misused to justify anti-migration policies; in many European countries anti-trafficking policies are shaped within an anti-migration discourse.

However, restrictive policies contradict their proclaimed purpose, as they create situations in which human rights violations are most likely to occur. Low-skilled or low-paid labour is often unregulated and there is a clear need to regulate in order to improve protection standards and prevent the creation of conditions for labour exploitation and consequently human trafficking.

icon access to justiceAccess to Justice

Access to justice is about having the means and legal protection to exercise one’s right to seek remedy before a court of law or tribunal for wrongdoing suffered. While European countries have ratified several binding international legal instruments that offer rights to victims, they often fall short in meeting their obligation to guarantee such access to justice.  A range of barriers obstruct the right to information, legal aid or compensation into practice. Often victims do not receive adequate information in a language they understand and have not access to legal support, due to existing financial barriers or lack of specialised legal support.

Next to lack of information, and legal support, also lack of awareness, postponement of trials and long duration of criminal and civil proceedings, and – in the case of foreign victims- their return or deportation to their country of origin before a verdict is reached, hampers the right to compensation. Even when compensation is granted, trafficked persons rarely have the means to ensure a compensation order is actually enforced, so that they receive some payment. Consequently, legal remedy provisions remain underused and trafficked persons rarely receive the justice they deserve. See also www.justiceatlast.eu

icon fair labour rightsFair Labour Rights

Many workers in Europe work without adequate protection or decent minimum wage.  Especially those in irregular work or in an irregular situation risk severe exploitation and abuse. Business find legal loopholes to avoid compliance with labour rights standards, like subcontracting and making use of letter box companies to deny responsibility for the exploitation and abuse.

Such misuse should be addressed. Decent working conditions should be generally promoted. Informal and unregulated work should be brought within the protection of labour laws and it should be ensured that labour rights are applied to all workers irrespective of their migration and residence status.

Binding legislation and control mechanisms should be established to ensure businesses compliance with labour standards and human rights; enacting sanctions for businesses that do not respect human rights and the law.  Further there needs to be a greater focus on the monitoring of contractors and subcontractors and job recruitment agencies, in particular in high risk labour sectors.

icon Non Punishment and decriminalizationNon Punishment and decriminalization

Current EU legislation allows member states to criminalize irregular persons; to criminalize or sanction persons who provide assistance to irregular migrants, or to establish as a criminal offence the use of services which are the objects of exploitation. An increasing number of citizens and organisations have reported harassment and punishments by authorities for helping irregular migrants. In addition many sex workers have reported increase of violation and abuse, as an impact of established legislation that criminalize sex workers or the purchase of sexual services.

Repressive measures against irregular workers, sex workers and organisations that support irregular workers and refugees, adds to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of large groups of persons. Furthermore it increases their dependency on the services of third parties, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse. Persons can be involvement in unlawful activities as victims of trafficking or exploitation and abuse.  Such victims must be provided with protection, not punishment. Regardless the non-punishment provision in international law, it is reported that victims still are punished through administrative detention, the imposition of fines, or the prosecution for crimes which were committed as a direct consequence of their trafficking situation.