An ECRE & the AIRE Centre delegation went on a fact-finding visit to Greece from 28 May to 5 June 2016. Here are some of the stories of those we met. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. The AIRE Centre's mission is to promote awareness of European law and assist marginalised and vulnerable individuals to assert their rights. This project is funded by EPIM.

The Numbers:

In 2015 the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported the highest levels of displacement globally since World War II. The EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, double the 2014 number (563,000). In January 2016, Europol confirmed that 10,000 refugee children were missing, with many of them feared to have fallen victims to human trafficking. The EU also highlighted in a recent report that trafficking in the context of migration and asylum is an emerging trend.

The Mission:

The AIRE Centre and ECRE have been exploring, amongst other issues, the extent to which this last finding is relevant in the context of the ongoing migration crisis in Greece. This formed part of the Joint Learning Initiative Field Visit to Greece in late May 2016. The team met with a number of asylum stakeholders and the Greek National Trafficking Rapporteur and attempted to see how identification of actual or potential trafficking victims is being conducted inside and outside the asylum framework, in practice.

The Reality:

The outcome of this exercise was disappointing and worrying:

On the side of authorities who are in contact with newly arriving persons, it was made clear to us that training on identification of victims of trafficking would not necessarily lead to desired results, due to the rapid transit of people and the limited solutions available to them after they have been identified. The main concern of the authorities at the moment is to help those arriving on Greek shores to have a “roof above their head and some food to eat”. Meeting those basic priorities is strained. But our team felt that the existence of other priorities cannot serve as an excuse to neglect the importance of early identification of potential or actual trafficking victims. We aim to substantiate our concerns and recommendations in detail in a joint report, which will be published at the end of June 2016. Furthermore, it was reported by Asylum Service caseworkers that trafficking related knowledge is disseminated as part of broader training on vulnerable groups and its relevance (or emphasis) depends on the geographical regions and countries of origin caseworkers deal with. But to disseminate or emphasise trafficking differentially, by region, is problematic. One of the most common misconceptions about trafficking, which some caseworkers inadvertently share, is that trafficking refers only to sexual trafficking and that certain refugees by region are vulnerable (while others may not be). This is false. Trafficking is the most versatile of crimes and it can take any number of forms and shapes. Human nature can be perverse when coming up with new ways of exploiting fellow human beings. Thus, training on early identification of victims or potential victims is crucial and relevant not only to teams dealing with specific geographical regions, but also to each and every caseworker.

The perfect victims and the importance of Early Legal Identification.

Early identification of victims or potential victims is critical to their effective protection, especially in times of crisis when the risk factors are increased and when human trafficking can easily be overlooked, despite the practical obstacles in the field. The AIRE Centre was a partner in the project Upholding Rights! Early Legal Intervention (ELI) for Victims of Trafficking, the main aim of which was to establish best practice in securing the protection of victims of trafficking through early legal intervention. One of the outcomes of this project was the publication of a comprehensive training toolkit that enables trainees to learn about the causes of human trafficking, understand the rights of the victims andthe impact of trafficking as well as be able to recognise its diverse forms and proceed to early and effective identification of potential victims.

Identifying victims of trafficking is a demanding and difficult task due to the complexity of the issue. And it becomes even more challenging in light of the vast numbers of people who arrive on the European shores everyday who are especially vulnerable. Some of them are sick and some of them are poor and certainly all of them are desperate about the conditions in their countries, which makes them the perfect victim for traffickers.

As I (Markella) argued in my recent TEDx talk in Vilnius, “trafficking can happen to anyone in many forms and shapes which means that victims of trafficking are hidden everywhere”. And unless all of us – individuals, authorities, organisations, states and unions of states – do something about this, victims will remain in the shadows forever.

1. International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Global Migration Trends 2015 Factsheet <> accessed 10.06.2016.

2. Mark Townsend, ‘10,000 refugee children are missing, says Europol’ (The Guardian, 30 January 2016) < > accessed 10.06.2016.

3. Report of the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2016) as required under Article 20 of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims (Brussels 19.05.2016) COM(2016) 267 final.

4. International Organisation for Migration ‘Addressing Human Trafficking and Exploitation in Times of Crisis’ (Switzerland, July 2015) accessed 13.06.2016.

5. For more information on ELI Project:

6. Training Toolkit Upholding Rights! Early Legal Intervention for Victims of Human Trafficking (Dublin 2015) <> accessed 11.06.2016.

7. Markella Papadouli, ‘Seeking Solutions to a Hidden Crime’, (TEDx Vilnius, April 2016) accessed 12.06.2016.