On the 1st and 2nd of September 2021, UNODC brought together 16 East African, Middle Eastern, and Gulf countries for an inter-regional workshop on combatting trafficking in persons by air. The first-of-its-kind inter-regional workshop, gathering 105 participants, 26% of them being women, aimed to spread awareness on and find solutions to challenges related to trafficking in persons by air offering an opportunity for experts and delegations to share their perspectives, experiences and insights. The event flagged the importance of international cooperation as well as the exchange of information and good practices as key in the fight against this crime. Organised by the UNODC’s Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council Region (OGCCR), the Regional Office for Eastern Africa (ROEA), and the Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA), the workshop involved experts and projects, such as AIRCOP, the Better Migration Management (BMM) Programme, and the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants – Asia and the Middle East (GLO.ACT Asia and the Middle East) – combining operational, policy, legislative, development, and criminal justice perspectives. In addition, perspectives and insight were offered by airlines, relevant country delegations as well as INTERPOL.
With a focus on trafficking in persons (TIP) by air the workshop presented the results of the 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. Furthermore, recent experiences on patterns, frequency, and challenges faced in the identification and investigation of TIP cases in the target regions were shared.
GIFP component AIRCOP presented the importance of international cooperation and the value of Joint Airport Interdiction Task Forces (JAITF) in detecting victims of trafficking and suspect traffickers. With a presence in 36 countries and 41 airports in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia, AIRCOP aims at strengthening the capacities of international airports to, among other, target and detect victims of trafficking in persons and intercept high-risk passengers. The large number of passengers that go through international airports is considered a challenge when it comes to screening, which is why AIRCOP supports the establishment of interagency teams, providing them with targeting and analytical capacities. The communication and coordination between JAITFs within the AIRCOP global network in origin, transit, and destination countries is of great importance in the effort to disrupt cross-border illicit flows and international criminal networks. AIRCOP task forces have already intercepted 14 victims of human trafficking at airports. Furthermore, the Ugandan representatives reminded that a fourth of the TIP cases they handle are of transnational nature. This is why they called for combined capacity building, between airports, authorities, airlines, and travel agencies.
From 2018 to May 2021, AIRCOP teams intercepted 56 persons as potential perpetrators of TIP and smuggling of migrants and detected 14 victims of human trafficking. It is interesting to note that 34% of the intercepted persons were women. AIRCOP stressed the importance of gender balance in the teams, especially in tackling certain stereotypes in intercepting potential perpetrators and victims. Availability of female officers to support victims of trafficking, especially women and children, is considered key as they may often be unwilling to speak to male officers.
Depending on the global health situation, the workshop is intended to have a second part, to ideally be held in person, in late October 2021. The second part of the workshop would aim at proposing solutions in preventing and combatting trafficking in persons, as well as strengthening capacities of airport frontline officers in identifying potential victims and referring cases to the relevant services.