Modern Day Slavery and the Emerging Group of Displaced People

While the practice of slavery was abolished almost two hundred years ago, today over twenty-seven million people are victims of modern day slavery (Hodge, 2014). Modern day slavery, or human trafficking, is defined as “the trade of human beings for the purpose of exploitation, typically in the form of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor” (Androff, 2010 in Hodge, 2014, p. 111). Human trafficking can be defined in terms of either sex trafficking or labor trafficking. Fifty-eight percent of the cases of human trafficking deal with sexual coercion and seventy-five percent of victims worldwide are women and children (Hodge, 2014). Victims of human trafficking can be recruited by false promises of jobs or immigration opportunities (Hodges, 2014). Recently, with a growing number of refugees, displaced people, and asylum seekers who are seeking these same opportunities, traffickers have a new group of victims to seek after. The growing number of refugees worldwide means there is a growing number of people at risk for being trafficked.

Today, the world is facing the worst refugee crisis in history, with the largest number of people recorded being effected. There are over 65.3 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, with refugees making up 21.3 million of those people (UNHCR, 2017) A refugee is someone who flees their country for fear of persecution, war, or violence (UNHCR, 2017). While refugees wait for the opportunity to resettle in a new country, they may be forced to stay in a refugee camp for upwards of seven to ten years (UNHCR, 2017).  In order to be allowed into a new country, refugees face an extreme vetting process with many background checks. The process for entry into the United States alone may take over two years to complete (Benadum, 2015).  Less than 1% of people qualify for resettlement; however, these people may then be denied because of individual quotas host countries allow for refugees (Benadum, 2015). Since the process is so long and some people may face dire circumstances while staying in camps for long periods of time, individuals may seek out other ways to immigrate.

Refugees are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers. The strict process of qualifying for resettlement may leave some people with feelings of hopelessness of ever escaping a camp. As a result of this feeling of hopelessness, refugees are left vulnerable to the promises of immigration and resettlement by would be traffickers. Recently, NGO workers have discovered an increase of children being sold into sex slavery and sold as child soldiers within refugee camps (Tamminem, 2014). As a result, the UN Refugee Agency created campaigns to raise awareness of the issues of human trafficking to the refugees within camps (Tamminem, 2014). The factors that put refugees in the most danger of falling victim to traffickers is the poverty they face in their journey of fleeing from their home countries. People who have fled their home arrive in camps with few belongings and little money. Traffickers may promise to smuggle these individuals out of the country for little money, but then trap the refugees into slavery (Benadum, 2015). As a result of refugees being such a vulnerable population for their want of immigration into safer environments, they are an easy group to prey on by traffickers.

In order to protect the rights of refugees from traffickers, greater awareness should be spread within camps. With an increase in awareness of trafficking schemes, families can protect themselves against human traffickers. Additionally, greater aid to refugee camps by different countries would increase the care and living conditions within camps for refugees, which may aid in lessening any desperation individuals may feel. In order to further decrease this desperation, countries who host refugees could increase the numbers of refugees they will resettle instead of trying to increase the difficulty of the immigration process. For example, the United States is currently trying the decrease the amount of countries it will accept people from, and they are trying to increase the difficulty in the vetting process (Benadum, 2015). This hardening of the immigration system comes from fear and misunderstanding of the people trying to seek refuge. Rather, countries like the United States should free themselves from stereotypes and actively work to help those in need. By seeing refugees as real people in need of help instead of as a threat to the country, refugees can more easily receive the assistance they need to restart their lives.

The other issue that needs addressing is the problem of human trafficking. Better training of individuals, especially law enforcement and business owners, to recognize the signs of victims can help rescue people from human trafficking. By being able to recognize the signs of victims more people can be freed from slavery. Additionally, there needs to be an increase in aid to organizations that help victims recover once rescued from slavery. Once a victim is rescued, they need medical treatment, food, clothing, shelter, and most importantly, therapy to reverse the psychological damage they may have faced by their captures (Hodges, 2014). Finally, there needs to be better laws to protect victims and to make it easy to prosecute traffickers across country lines.

Combined, the refugee crisis and the human trafficking issue present a major threat to a large portion of the world’s population. Until major reforms take place in not only legal systems and governments, but also in the views and stereotypes that are held by the citizens within countries that can aid refugees, refugees will continue to be at an increased risk of being trafficked.



Benadum, C. (2015 December 2). Human trafficking, refugees, and displaced persons: What terms to use. End Slavery Now. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Hodge, D. R. (2014). Assisting victims of human trafficking: Strategies to facilitate identification, exit from trafficking, and the restoration of wellness. Social Work, 59,111-118. doi:10.1093/sw/swu002

Tamminem, S. (2014 August 7). High risk of human trafficking in refugee camps. Human Trafficking Center. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

UNHCR. (2017). Figures at a glance. Retrieved from