When airports are the first point of reception

Wed, 28/11/2018 - 12:23


Reception. Summary of the main conclusions from the meeting ‘International protection and human trafficking at European airports. Challenges for detection, support and reception in international zones’.

The Asil.cat network of entities held a meeting on 20 November to reflect on asylum seekers and possible victims of human trafficking arriving at airports.

The Red Cross hosted the meeting, with Catalan, Spanish and international organisations and administrations sharing practices and experiences and discussing the relevant shortcomings which exist at Spanish airports, despite the fine work done by NGOs which at a practical level often end up substituting administrations.

The airport is an initial reception point for asylum seekers and as such should be a place of protection and safety for them. It can and must also be a point for detecting human trafficking and intervening immediately in such cases. The meeting organised by Asil.cat looked at how to improve reception and detection, focusing on three questions: the current material conditions at our airports, which those who don’t meet entry requirements come up against; human support (civil servants, NGOs etc.) available to them, and territorial transfer protocols.

Material conditions and infrastructures needed

The meeting highlighted (even more evident in light of the experience of the UK, outlined by Amanda Read, Operations Manager handling human trafficking with the UK Border Force) the need for a reference system, a senior body working for correct coordination and coherence between the reception offered to asylum seekers and the procedure for this request. This body should also articulate a response for cases of human trafficking detected or identified at the border.

At the same time, a proposal was made for a study to improve the location of facilities to handle people seeking international protection. The facilities should guarantee environmental and material conditions recommended by the Ombudsperson (represented by Elena Arce, head of the Area for Migration and Equal Treatment for the Ombudsperson). The spaces should also respond to the various needs of these people. In this respect, there should be family areas and the possibility to separate possible traffickers and victims, as well as by gender or sexual orientation, as is the case in the UK for instance.

Mixed teams (made up of police officers and NGO staff) should be highly specialised so they can most suitably contextualise possible situations of human trafficking

The meeting noted the need to identify who manages this space and above all who is ultimately responsible for it. “The Spanish state must take it on and can’t delegate it to NGOs, which work using volunteers and according to the resources available”, noted Rosa Cendón, from SICAR.cat, a member of the Asil.cat network.

Professional and human reception

In terms of the reception of people seeking international protection and victims of human trafficking, the meeting assessed the combination of action by people belonging to the administration and to NGOs. Besides covering the basic needs (clothing, food and emotional support) of people arriving at airports, they can also help assess their vulnerability and improve the detection of possible cases of human trafficking. In this respect, the meeting noted that a system should be designed which facilitates access for NGOs to areas considered as ‘security’ zones, where access is restricted.

Similarly, the meeting noted it is crucial to establish a shared information and networking system to avoid duplications and possible revictimization. The session also identified the need to properly manage this sort of information, which is highly sensitive and subject to data protection laws. Likewise, the need was identified for mixed teams (made up of police officers and NGO staff) to be highly specialised so they can most suitably contextualise possible situations of human trafficking. “We need to look for the balance between legally holding signs which are of interest to the state security forces and reasonable signs called for within the international legal framework to identify presumed victims of human trafficking”, concluded Rosa Cendón.

Finally, the session addressed the need to broaden detection to include other forms of exploitation, not exclusively sexual, understanding that men can also be victims of human trafficking.

Detection of cases of human trafficking

The detection of possible human trafficking victims has improved a lot in recent years, but the meeting concluded that work should be furthered to make even more progress. For instance, work needs to be done on the description of all cases which can arise and all parties involved. An assessment of the level of risk for a trafficking victim is also a key factor in being able to attend to them properly and offering the most appropriate means of support and reception. Warning mechanisms should also be created for cases where there are signs of human trafficking during the reception process.


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