The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Friday called for more to be done to protect African refugees and migrants from traffickers on their way from the Sahel and the Horn of Africa toward North Africa and Europe.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says traffickers take advantage of African refugees fleeing persecution and violence and of migrants fleeing poverty and climate shocks, subjecting them to appalling abuse.
“Some of them are left to die in the desert. Others suffer repeated sexual and gender-based violence, kidnapped for ransom, torture and many other forms of physical and psychological abuse," said Mantoo. "So, the human trafficking issue is widespread and is incredibly alarming.”
The report issued by the UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Center at the Danish Refugee Council, is based on information from 12 countries, from Burkina Faso and Cameroon to Somalia and Sudan.
Mantoo tells VOA human traffickers and smugglers use technology and online platforms to advertise their services to unsuspecting victims. She says traffickers employ the internet to identify, groom and recruit victims, including children.
She says the UNHCR is urging governments and the private sector to work together to crack down on the use of the Internet by traffickers.
“These same digital technologies can be leveraged to actually counter the issue and counter trafficking by helping empower communities with trustworthy information, to better protect themselves and also be aware of the risks that they might face on these journeys …to ensure that there are protection services available for the people who are taking these precarious and perilous journeys, to prevent and end the human trafficking and smuggling rings," said Mantoo.
The report provides tailored information for refugees and migrants on services available on different routes. The UNHCR is calling for the creation of shelters and safe places, better access to legal services, and specialized services for children and female survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence.
UNHCR officials stress the importance of identifying critical locations to serve as so-called last stops – places where refugees and migrants can get information about the dangers that lie ahead before they embark on journeys across the Sahara.