UNODC’s actions to prevent human trafficking and smuggling of migrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2020

14 Pages, Grade: A



Human trafficking is a global problem which was denounced by the international community as human rights abuse and determined to be as a modern form of a slavery. This article studies the actions of UNODC to combat human trafficked victims from Eastern Europe and Central Asia in targeted countries. The study provides a literature review, SWOT analysis and recommendations, research tools about the nature of the problem in international organization’s perspective and what actions have to be taken to prevent human trafficking.

Key words: human trafficking, smuggling, illegal immigration, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, international organizations, UNODC, SWOT analysis, governance.


Human trafficking as a global and regional issue of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Human trafficking is defined “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation” (United Nations, 2000). There were 40 million of people trafficked worldwide by ILO metrics in 2016, which is 6 adult victims of slavery for every 1000 adults and 4 child victims for every 1000 children in the world. 71% of human trafficked victims are women who have been exploited for sex jobs and forced marriages, 25% are children who have been used for organ donors and forced labor; and the rest is men who have been exploited for labor (ILO, 2016). By metrics of ILO and Europol 2009, a human trafficker/criminal make $32 billion per year in their networks. Human trafficking, drugs and weapons are the most profitable among all illegal fields (Crookham, 2004)

Human trafficking is a global problem, but there are some regions where human trafficking is on a higher level than in the others, specifically countries in Eastern Europe, the Former Soviet Union (USSR) and South East Asia. Nations from these regions are the most frequently reported countries of origin for victims of human trafficking (UNODC, 2006). The Eastern European and Former Soviet Union regions are the most frequently mentioned regions of origin for human trafficking victims (UNODC, 2006). Victims-migrants from those sensitive regions in Eastern Europe are Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia (Crookham, 2004). The Former USSR countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan (Crookham, 2004). It is assumed that the reason of high human violence in these regions is related to the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 which had led to a poverty, government instability, regional civil wars, genocide and a huge number of refugees (Malarek, 2003).

IOM reports that women from Eastern Europe and Central Asia enter destination countries with tourist or student visas, some of them are trafficked by smuggling and transported illegally hidden in cars and trucks. (IOM, 2009) Once they get the destination country they are forced to prostitution, some of them beaten, raped, threatened, stayed in the in inhuman conditions with no food. If a woman tries to escape criminals threaten her family to payback the debt. Women depend on their traffickers due to lack of legal immigration documents, unfamiliarity of foreign language, mistrust of police and other authorities, also drug addiction is one of the reasons to be controlled by mafia. Some of them catch HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases which lead to committing suicide or they are being killed by traffickers as a warning to other trafficked victims.

Commitment of UNODC and International Standards

There are dozens of efforts done by international organizations, NGO’s, regional organizations, governmental organizations, governments and experts to combat human trafficking and determine it as one the biggest tragedies in the world. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has declared on the World Day against Trafficking in Persons” in July 30, 2019: “On this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, let us reaffirm our commitment to stop criminals from ruthlessly exploiting people for profit and help victims rebuild their lives”. (UNODC, 2019)

There are significant anti-trafficking actions taken in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by international organizations which emphasize to international cooperation such as: The United Nations (The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons 2000), OSCE (paragraph 40.7 of the Moscow Document 1991), Council of Europe (The CoE Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005), UNODC (Strategic Partnership and Programmatic Actions in Eastern Europe 2017-2020, SoM Smuggling of Immigrants 2014), and many others.

I would like to study the UNODC’s organization framework in terms of preventing human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Central Asia which is based on its mandate, policies and future strategies.

UNODC is the international organization which promotes a response to crime and drugs, development and security, human rights-based issues. The organization acts as guardian and advocate, it includes conventions such as (the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances), the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the united Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, the international legal instruments against terrorism and the United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice. (UNODC, 2017). UNODC’s mandate in preventing human trafficking is research and awareness-rising, implementation and capacity building, strengthening partnership and coordination. UNODC is a leading policy and central hub for the international community’s response. (UNODC, 2012)

The organization has a technical system which brings together all information, best practices, resources related to human trafficking. UNODC also produces specialized studies and issue papers (ex. human trafficking by air or sea) through inter-agency ICAT. Another section of the organization is UN Voluntarily Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Humans where UNODC acts as a Fund Manager.

UNODC is funded by Member States, voluntarily contributions, multilateral organizations, private sector and other sources. In 2018 the organization received $361.9 million contributions. (UNODC, 2020)

As our interest in a specific region which is covered by UNODC Regional Section for Europe, West and Central Asia. It is located at the UNODC HQ in Vienna and it is responsible for the coordination of partnerships and programs in that region. In this regard, UNODC provides Eastern European and Central Asian countries specialized assistance such as the development of local capacity, expertise, practical tools to encourage cross-border cooperation in order to investigate and prosecute. For example, in 2012 UNODC developed training materials for law enforcers in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine which emphasize international cooperation and holistic approaches in this issue. In 2006-2007 UNODC trained police, border guards, prosecutors, judges, health-care providers, and NGO staff in Ukraine, Albania, Moldova, Belarus and Bosnia. (European Commission 2009). The organization regularly have campaigns (ex. Blue Heart), forums, seminars, conferences on monthly basis in the region.

SWOT Analysis


- The access to a political dialogue between Member States in the issue of human trafficking from the position of the central hub.
- Strong relations with NGO’s which has the access to mediate with victims and their families
- Cooperation with EU technical assistance programs and structures such as European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM), European Union Advisory Mission in Ukraine and Moldova; with Council of Europe and its programs; OSCE programs in the regions, Interpol and Europol programs. (Vreja, 2007)
- A program of communication and coordination which identifies potential areas of duplication with other actors in the region, and support resource mobilization for the UNODC Strategic Partnership and Programmatic Actions.
- Technical expertise, IT support, a technical system which brings together all information, best practices, resources related to human trafficking.
- UN bodies which coordinate action between the agencies responsible for law enforcement, immigration, labor, social services, and foreign affairs.


- A limited access to Member States’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration/Border Agencies and National Police Forces. The targeted region does not have political openness, so it is not easy to get the access to government bodies (ex. Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). (Vreja, 2007)
- A lack of coordination between domestic law enforcement agencies sharing common mandates to counter trafficking that can reduce their effectiveness. Some countries do not have any national strategy or coordinating agency responsible for addressing trafficking issues. Even though Ukraine, Bosnia and Croatia have designated a police officer or unit to deal with trafficking, but these are usually not coordinated with other judicial, social, or immigration agencies. (Gramenda, 2008)
- A lack the skills and resources to pursue enquiries with properly gathered and preserved evidence.
- Difficulty to find expertise in the region
- Limited personnel to cover all planned activities
- Difficulty to provide assistance to victims during pandemic.
- Difficulty to determine and adopt in existing laws a difference between “human trafficking and smuggling” from “prostitution and black market”. (OSCE, 1999)


- Interest of the private sector, NGO’s and civil society in the prevention of the issue
- the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit (AHTMSU) of the Implementation Support Section, the independent UN.GIFT secretariat, and support functions for ICAT and the Trust Fund will lead to a better coordination with donor and recipient States and the delivery of assistance. These units give UNODC ability to deliver cutting-edge technical assistance and to continue to play a leadership role in strengthening partnerships and coordination in the region. (UNODC, 2012)
- The UN Trust Fund shows potential for outreach to non-traditional donors such as members of the public, community-based organizations and the private sector (UNODC 2012)
- Coordination with IOs to provide additional services and improve the existing referral network system.
- In the area of law enforcement, there are good opportunities of creating training centers in rural areas of the targeted region. For example, UNODC launched International Training Centre (ITC) along with the Ministry of Interior in Belarus to combat human trafficking and crime. (European Commission, 2009)
- UNODC training modules have to become a part of the national curriculums.


- Political instabilities in Ukraine and Russia that cause lack of continuity of authorities .
- main donors focused on other regions of the world (Sub-Sahara region, Middle East and East Asia). (Vreja, 2007)
- A global crisis led by pandemic may affect UNODC work in the field.

Governments borderless nature, the legal regimes that restrict access to computer data and electronic evidence inhibit the timely response needed to act effectively against trafficking. mandate in preventing human trafficking is research and awareness-rising, implementation and capacity building, strengthening partnership and coordination. UNODC is a leading policy and central hub for the international community’s response. (UNODC, 2012)

Based on the SWOT analysis presented, some recommendations (see page 11) are proposed for UNODC as an actor which works on combatting human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It appears that human trafficking is a minor problem from the governments’ perspective, there is a lack of trafficking laws that tend to be defined in terms of “prostitution” or “black market”. Trafficking remains a relatively low priority among officials in the region. Many officials are not aware of the scope of the problem in their countries or do not fully understand the phenomenon. Some are actively participating in and profiting from the trade. (OSCE, 2004). Socio-economic conditions, attitudes about women and/or prostitutes, lack of information, resources, capacity, and political will all contribute to this problem. It is also not easy to get an access to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, local police, immigration/border agencies in order to provide training, expertise and IT support. (UNODC, 2012) Despite of all cultural and historical background obstacles due to the collapse of the USSR, UNODC Europe subregion is the only IO that provides a legislative, law enforcement such as trainings for social workers, police, border control officers, police and medical workers.

In all accessible data in the internet there is no much expertise and much support provided to this region, assumed that Member States invest and increase awareness in other human trafficked regions, even though Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the statistically highest numbers of human trafficked victims and also considered to be trafficking destinations as well. I believe that UNODC needs to increase the cooperation and work with NGOs and IOs in order to provide awareness of existing protection and legal aid services, to be on the same page. Also, awareness raising should be done through local media campaigns and strengthened partnerships through media companies at the local and national levels with understanding of the cultural background and mentality. (Howard, Traughter 2007)


Excerpt out of 14 pages


UNODC’s actions to prevent human trafficking and smuggling of migrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia
City University of New York City College  (CCNY)
International Relations, Graduate School, 1st year
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
international organizations, international relations, un, undc, humantrafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, illegal immigration, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, UNODC, SWOT analysis, governance
Quote paper
Liliya Kenzhebayeva (Author), 2020, UNODC’s actions to prevent human trafficking and smuggling of migrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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