Photo: UN Women/Rena Effendi


Homa S. Hasan - IOM Norway - Senior Programme Development Officer (Mission Gender Focal Point)

Publisert: 2020-07-30     Redigert: 2022-05-20

Therefore, when referring to migrants and refugees, gender considerations should be built into our protection responses, such as the provision of SRH services, including SGBV support along migratory routes. However, vulnerable groups also include persons with pre-existing chronic illnesses and specific needs (children, elderly, persons with disabilities), LGBTQI+ migrants and single-headed households.

The impact of COVID-19 on victims of trafficking

“Migrants in irregular situations, asylum seekers, exploited and trafficked persons may be particularly at risk of COVID-19 because their living or working environment may expose them to the virus without necessary protection.” Statement by UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr Felipe González Morales, and UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Ms Marie Grazia Giammarinaro, 3rd April 2020

The identification of victims of trafficking is difficult because of its underground criminal nature. The pandemic risks further curtailing identification efforts due to measures of confinement, priorities of law enforcement shifting from the apprehension of traffickers to the monitoring of confinement and other measures against COVID-19, and the closure of social services.  The protection of victims of trafficking may also be impacted by the pandemic, especially when they experienced pre-existing socioeconomic difficulties. Their living conditions may put them at increased risk of infection. They also have higher risks of re-exploitation when they can´t benefit from assistance and care due to suspension of services, or the impossibility in the practice of preventive measures in victims’ shelters.

The socio-economic impacts of the pandemic are exacerbating vulnerabilities in our societies, including systemic issues related to health care, social security, security of employment or working conditions. As in times of economic crisis, increased insecurity, poverty and marginalization induced by diseases outbreaks can be key drivers of human trafficking. Criminal groups such as traffickers are likely to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities for exploitative purposes. Increasing rates of unemployment, which will likely worsen in the forthcoming months, will add additional pressures on workers and increase jobs competition (women are over represented in low-paid and informal work sector), while reducing flows of international remittances to countries of origin, thereby exposing more families to poverty. 

Risks of human trafficking induced by the pandemic can, for example, take the form of: 

  • The disruption of supply chains with little oversight over potentially exploitative working conditions at the other end of the chain.
  • Factories lending money for workers confined at home without financial resources which may turn out in debt bondage.
  • Prohibition of sex work due to lockdown in some countries which risks pushing sex workers underground and increasing their vulnerability to human trafficking. 

Family separation, including unaccompanied and separated children, remains a significant challenge with diminished capacities to implement coordination and tracking mechanisms.

These are just a few of the examples of tools and responses to COVID-19

  • IOM, through its Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking (CREST), has developed and implemented tools and guidance to uphold the rights of migrant workers during COVID-19. These include recommendations for businesses and suppliers to support the protection of migrant workers in international supply chains.
  • The IOM's Joint Global Initiative on Diversity, Inclusion and Social Cohesion (DISC Initiative) has developed a Special Edition of the DISC Digest, No Social Exclusion in ‘Social’ Distancing: Leaving No Migrants Behind, exploring the risks of social exclusion caused by inequities faced by different migrant households and groups (i.e. women, children, persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ+) in the COVID-19 response, and showcases best field practices and assessment reports for developing a more differentiated, appropriate, and migrant-friendly response to the pandemic.
  • Remittances (essential service classification) – helping sending migrants, in the form of decreased remittance fees (SDG 10 c) as well as innovative solutions to mitigate the estimated 20% reduction in world remittances.


This article is an adaptation of materials sourced from:


This article was originally published in iFokus 1/2020. 


SheDil Index Report 2nd Edition - Reference List

Last ned

SheDil Index Report 2nd Edition

Last ned

Technology-facilitated gender based violence

Last ned