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Human Trafficking Center

High Risks of Human Trafficking in Refugee Camps


Aug 2014


by Silvia Tamminem, Senior Associate

At the beginning of 2013, there were 10.4 million refugees worldwide, and slightly less than half were living in refugee camps. These camps – characterized by high population density, internal and external security concerns, and endemic resource shortages – are an ideal location for traffickers to prey on potential victims. After extensive research regarding trafficking from refugee camps, I am convinced more empirical field research must be conducted in order to formulate and implement effective policies and attract the interest of the donors. There are numerous cases of human trafficking facing refugee camps:

  • The Sudan People’s Liberation Army recruited unaccompanied minors residing in refugee camps during the Sudanese civil war.[1] It is also believed that the SPLA regularly recruits soldiers from the Dadaab camps of Kenya.[2]
  • Hutu rebels have recruited refugee children for combat purposes in Burundi from camps in Central African Republic, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya.[3]
  • Burmese refugees residing in Thai refugee camps are lured for employment in Thailand and Malaysia, then sold to employers as forced laborers.
  • Wealthy Middle Eastern men buy young Syrian refugee girls living in the crowded camps of Jordan through Arabic online forums. Saudi men are known to pay 500-1,000 riyal (about $140-270 US) to buy a young refugee wife.[4]

The threat of trafficking to refugees living in camps is evident and extensive and yet there are no comprehensive empirical studies available on the subject. International organizations and NGOs working in these camps have taken some measures to combat trafficking. The International Organization for Migration, for instance, implemented an awareness campaign to warn the refugee camp and the host country population in Jordan of the dangers of human trafficking. While raising awareness is essential, additional knowledge and financial resources are needed to protect the dignity and rights of displaced persons.

In prolonged camp situations, such as the Dadaab camp in Kenya (the largest refugee camp in the world), the interest of the donor community tends to wear out quickly. Given that humanitarian aid organizations and the UN Refugee Agency are dependent on the support of these donors, shifts in funding leave many camps without adequate financial resources.

As a first step to combat human trafficking in refugee camps, I propose conducting empirical field research. Research on the risk factors and the nature of trafficking as it pertains to refugee camps around the world is necessary in order to identify effective methods to combat the issue. Furthermore, empirical evidence may be effective in attracting the attention of the donors and thus increase the resources at hand to combat this tremendous violation of rights for thousands displaced human beings.


[1] Singer, P. W. 2006. Children at War. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. [2] Crisp, Jeff. 2000. “A State of Insecurity: The Political Economy of Violence in Kenya’s Refugee Camps.” African Affairs 99 (397): 601-632: 603. [3] Singer, P. W. 2006. Children at War. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press: 20.

2 Responses to “High Risks of Human Trafficking in Refugee Camps”

  1. A Year of Research Blogging on Human Trafficking | Human Trafficking Center

    […] High Risks of Human Trafficking in Refugee Camps  by Silvia Tamminem […]

  2. Monthly Human Trafficking Links: August - Human Trafficking CenterHuman Trafficking Center

    […] associate Silivia Tamminem highlights research conducted into human trafficking at refugee camps. Silvia shares several examples of where trafficking has occurred in these camps and calls for more […]

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