Shared Learning and Understanding the Contexts for Human Trafficking from Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria to the UK

2 May 2019
Research Innovation

Patricia Hynes  | Reader, University of Bedfordshire
Patrick Burland  | Senior Project Officer, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Since the establishment of a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in the UK in April 2009, which allows first responders to formally identify potential victims of trafficking so they can receive support and assistance, referrals from Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria have consistently been among the top referral countries of origin. Between 2014 and 2018, 34 per cent of NRM referrals were Vietnamese, Albanian and Nigerian. In 2018, 947 Albanian, 702 Vietnamese and 208 Nigerian nationals were referred to the UK’s NRM. Our research has collected rich, nuanced and contextually-based accounts of the lived experiences of those who have been trafficked to better understand vulnerability to human trafficking in these three countries.

The study is a partnership between the University of Bedfordshire and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), utilizing IOM’s newly developed Determinants of Migrant Vulnerability model, which addresses individual, family/household, community and structural factors when determining vulnerability to human trafficking. The final report of the research is now available, though the Shared Learning Events (SLEs) held in Tirana, Hanoi and Lagos between October 2017 and January 2018 produced several interesting findings that warrant separate discussion here.

Resources table at Viet Nam SLE. Photo by IOM Viet Nam.

We employed expert researchers in each country who helped to organize and run SLEs in the three countries. The events were attended by anti-trafficking stakeholders working in a variety of different sectors in each country, including law enforcement, civil society, international organizations and governmental agencies. The SLEs were important in addressing key concerns from the start such as the design and refinement of research tools, the development of a shared understanding around ethical practice when conducting the research, discussions around translation and interpretation as well as ensuring data protection and safeguarding concerns. The expert researchers also carried out interviews with key informants and adults who had experienced trafficking in Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria as well as the UK. These semi-structured interviews incorporated knowledge and contextual factors from each country gleaned from the SLEs.

At the SLEs, we also developed timelines of key historical moments, political events, economic developments, peaks in migration from each country, and government action including policy developments, prevention campaigns, and key human trafficking and associated legislation. These timelines have allowed the research team to capture a sense of the historical and structural factors impacting conditions that enable trafficking.

A surprising number of common themes arose from the SLEs across the three countries. We found that the significance of Albania, Viet Nam and Nigeria as important countries of origin for potential victims of trafficking referred into the UK NRM was little understood and not prioritized by anti-trafficking stakeholders in the three countries. Some participants in the SLEs also expressed scepticism about how many of the potential victims of trafficking being referred into the UK NRM actually experienced trafficking.

It quickly became clear from the contributions of participants at the SLEs that the journeys of trafficked persons often began with efforts to make truly informed decisions to help one’s family move away from “vulnerabilities” encountered at home, or as responses to promises of employment and accommodation abroad. These decisions often led to fragmented and protracted journeys that resulted in further “vulnerability”, precarity and exploitation. We found that forms of stigma and discrimination a person faced both prior to and after trafficking were significant in their potential impacts upon support and recovery, but the importance of this was underestimated in practice.

Viet Nam timeline.

In all three countries, there was little understanding of the support required for boys and men who had experienced trafficking. We also found that what was considered to be good or promising practice was often not defined or debated and, although there were potential pockets of good practice happening on the ground, these were rarely evaluated or monitored. However, there was recognition during the SLEs that this should be corrected. National statistics were not considered by participants to be either comprehensive or reliable indicators of the prevalence of human trafficking.

In all three countries, the causes or drivers of human trafficking were found to be broad, multiple and overlapping. Migration, more broadly, in both Albania and Viet Nam was intrinsically linked to the transitions underway from centralized state-led economies to market economies.

The Albanian SLE highlighted that relying on a familiar narrative around young, uneducated females being most prone to exploitation by tight networks of organized crime groups did not capture how students with university-level education became involved in human trafficking. Methods of recruitment were varied and often related to close personal and non-immediate family ties within a broader framework of gender imbalances within society. Rejection by family members after human trafficking experiences was reported to be a common response.

In Viet Nam, we heard about debt and families collecting financial resources, selling assets and mortgaging properties to enable a family member to travel only to then find themselves in severe, abusive and violent exploitative conditions in the UK. In Nigeria, a call was made for a debate on “root causes” utilizing a development paradigm that is victim- or child-centred, based on rights and a call to involve survivors in human trafficking work. As in Albania, it was clearly stated that traffickers are rarely strangers and that a further focus on close personal and family ties rather than the idea of “stranger-danger” was more appropriate.

Conducting a multi-country research project over the space of two years has had its challenges. However, we are now in the process of analysing close to 170 in-depth interviews with key informants and survivors of human trafficking across Albania, Viet Nam, Nigeria and the UK and, overall, it is clear that the contexts of human trafficking from these countries to the UK are captured in the model IOM has developed. The research findings make it clear that we need to move beyond a focus on individual-level vulnerabilities to trafficking such as age, gender, education level and poverty. It is vital that we recognize the context of an individual’s life and consider the household,  family, community and structural pressures that create vulnerability to trafficking.

This article has been prepared by Patricia Hynes and Patrick Burland as contributors to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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