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Are Natural Disasters Linked to Human Trafficking?

In Fiji, within the past 12 months, we have had three unwelcome visitors: COVID-19; Tropical Cyclone Yasa; Tropical Cyclone Ana.


A graph depicting the spread of COVID-19 in Fiji in the early months.

First, COVID-19 struck the world with a mighty blow.

Tourism contributes to over 38% to Fiji’s GDP and provides over 118,000 jobs. Obviously, when Fijian borders were closed to all non-residents on 16th March, 2020, our tourism industry – and the Nation’s economy, took a brutal blow. People lost their jobs, almost overnight.

THE catastrophic impact of COVID-19 has resulted in some women being forced into prostitution for as low as $1.50, according to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center.
Ms Ali said complaints registered at the center’s Nadi branch included husbands forcing their wives into sex work to be able to buy cigarettes, alcohol and kava.
She claimed some family members were also forcing their children into sex work.
She also highlighted that domestic violence was intensifying and poverty was increasing within the Jet set Town.

A massive storm system, engulfing the nation of Fiji.

Then, Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Yasa struck our shores beginning 16th December, 2020. 23,000 people were forced to go into evacuation centers and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama stated that “This is not normal. This is a climate emergency.”

Many shop owners lost everything.

A 20-year-old man who allegedly raped a 10-year-old girl in an evacuation center in Seaqaqa will appear in the Labasa Magistrates Court today. (2 Jan, 2021)

Then, just one month later, Category 2 Tropical Cyclone Ana ravaged the island nation once again, this time placing over 10,000 people into evacuation centers and severe flooding and widespread damage to buildings, crops and public infrastructure resulted.

The infrastructure in many of these towns was damaged, causing disruptions to power and fresh drinking water.
Towns in the west and north were particularly hit hard.
Traffickers are known to take advantage of vulnerable people who have been displaced.
Over 10,000 people forced into evacuation centers.

Entire farms were flooded under, causing hardship to entire families as well as hardship to the nation because of severe limitations of available fresh produce.
Flooding of farms in the Sigatoka Valley.

Obviously, these disasters are hard on any nation, any people group. But do they lead to vulnerabilities which will then cause a rise in sexual exploitation and human trafficking?

"In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, displacement is likely to occur, giving space for traffickers to operate and exploit affected people"
...displacement is likely to occur [after disasters], giving space for traffickers to operate...
While every human trafficking victim is different, a common thread they share is the presence of a vulnerability that traffickers exploit. Those types of vulnerabilities are rampant in the aftermath of natural disasters. Homelessness is one of the top risk factors reported by survivors to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and we often learn that survivors were recruited by traffickers near shelters or centers helping people in need.

The Climate Change-Human Trafficking Nexus report put out by the International Organization for Migration has done some incredible research:

Climate change increases the risk of natural disasters and places a strain on livelihoods; it exacerbates poverty and can potentially cause situations of conflict and instability. Sudden-onset disasters can cause unexpected loss of land and lives, and destruction of means of livelihoods, instantly plunging those without safety nets into poverty. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, displacement is likely to occur, giving space for traffickers to operate and exploit affected people, their desire for safety and search for means of income to help restore their lives. This may lead to either a sharp rise in human trafficking if the region already witnessed TiP or the creation of a new “hot spots” for human trafficking. Specific attention must be given to the risk of TiP in camps/camp-like settings established to shelter those displaced by natural disasters. As examples from the Asia–Pacific region show, these settings attract criminal actors and can become targets for human traffickers. Sometimes, affected families or individuals may also resort to trafficking or collude with traffickers in order to earn money. (page 3)

And lastly, a report done by UN Women after the 2012 Fiji floods:

Areas of concern during times of humanitarian emergencies are the protection of women, girls, boys and men from sexual exploitation and abuse including from service providers and aid workers and from all forms of GBV, including domestic violence.
In emergencies, norms regulating social behavior are weakened and traditional social systems often break down. Existing vulnerabilities are further exacerbated.
Women and children may be separated from family and community supports, making them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to their gender, age and dependence on others for help and safe passage.
The increased financial stress in the aftermath of the flood has led to some incidence of commercial sexual exploitation of children observed by informants, which were recounted during the review. Teachers noticed unusual school-dropout rates, and on investigation they found that either children were being kept at home to take care of younger children or were being sent out at night to solicit extra cash through sex work.

The point of this particular blog is not to argue the validity of climate change. It is to highlight just how vulnerable the people of Fiji are right now to trafficking and forced sex, in large part due to our recent bombardment of natural disasters.

We need your help.

Speak up: tell others, as many people as you can, about the plight of the nation of Fiji right now. Educate yourselves on climate change and its effects on human trafficking, then tell others! Tell others to hold their children tight and teach them about people who want only to take for themselves.

Give: our residential campus took a hit and some repairs will need to be done. We need money.

Give: many of our past residents, colleagues and partners are living in the worst hit areas. If we had the money, we could help purchase them materials to rebuild.

Give: for those of you who live in Fiji, we need laborers to help us repair our campus: carpenters; welders; farmers; brush cutters; water blasters...

Pray: please pray for God's mercy and grace to surround the people here. Pray for hope to be the anchor of their souls. Pray for resilience to spring forth from their hearts. Pray for wisdom for this nation's leaders. Pray for favor with international donors to help all of us rebuild.


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