In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) draws attention to the particular difficulties experienced by victims of human trafficking, who generally find themselves in a position of great insecurity and vulnerability. In addition to having suffered incapacitating psychological trauma and physical injuries, many of these women, men and children have no means of subsistence and may be in an irregular migration or employment situation, without medical or social protection, and with no documents and resources to enable them to return to their home countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their situation can only deteriorate and criminals may actively use this global crisis to exploit vulnerability to increase the financial profit human trafficking generates.
To contain the spread of the virus and save lives, Council of Europe member states have declared state of emergency or other restrictive measures, including mandatory quarantine, closure of non-essential activities and sealing of borders. While these measures may be necessary, they also create challenges for professionals supporting and protecting victims of human trafficking. In many countries, law enforcement is mobilised in implementing the state of emergency or other restrictive measures, which limits their capacity to investigate human trafficking cases and identify victims. Similarly, other actors who can detect victims of trafficking, such as labour inspectors, social workers, health-care staff and NGOs, are currently dramatically limited in their anti-trafficking action. At the mercy of their traffickers and exploiters, many victims are invisible, and the risks that they remain undetected and unprotected are heightened as attention and resources are geared towards curbing the spread of COVID-19.