Traffickers profiting as pandemic makes crime harder to crack, UN warns


LONDON — Human traffickers are capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic to target people ranging from jobless migrants to out-of-school children, two United Nations (UN) specialists said, warning that the fallout from COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) had driven the crime further underground.

The global economic slowdown has left countless people jobless, desperate and at risk of exploitation, while victims of trafficking are less likely to be found or receive help with attention and resources diverted elsewhere, the experts said.

An estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of labour and sex trafficking, according to the United Nations, with concerns growing that more will fall prey as support services are halted and efforts to secure justice are hindered.

“The difficulty is that trafficking is now even more underground and less visible,” said Siobhan Mullally, the recently-appointed U.N. special rapporteur on human trafficking.

“More people are at risk … especially in the informal economy … there are opportunities for traffickers to recruit, to exploit, to prey on people’s desperation,” Ms. Mullally told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of Anti-Slavery Day on Oct. 18.

About 2.5 billion people — more than 60% of the world’s workforce — are informal workers, leaving them particularly at risk of being underpaid and abused, labour advocates have said.

From India to Cambodia, workers in sectors such as textiles and tourism have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19 and resorted to taking out loans that can lead to debt bondage or accepting work on worse terms and in exploitative conditions.

Many of the world’s estimated 164 million migrant workers are stranded abroad and unable to go home or unwilling to seek help due to closed borders and restrictive immigration policies, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers, according to Ms. Mullally.

‘WORSENING HORRORS’
Two decades after the adoption of a landmark U.N. anti-trafficking protocol, Ms. Mullally said the issue was still seen mainly as a criminal justice matter, and called for a much broader focus encompassing labour rights and social protection.

“An economic crisis … and recession or even depression … may be used as an excuse to curtail workers’ rights, with the knock-on effect of a greater threat of trafficking,” she added.

Extreme poverty will rise for the first time this century, the World Bank said last week, predicting that the COVID-19 fallout could spawn 115 million “new poor” this year alone.

Ilias Chatzis, head of the trafficking unit at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said his department was still gathering information about the impact of coronavirus on the crime but warned that early evidence showed “worsening horrors”.

He cited the example of children spending more time online and being vulnerable to sexual exploitation —remotely — by global predators. Europol said in May that online child sex abuse in the European Union spiked at the start of the pandemic.

While acknowledging the “complexity” of tackling trafficking during COVID-19, Chatzis sounded a note of hope for the future.

“It’s not all darkness ahead, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We abolished (chattel) slavery, we can abolish trafficking.” — Thomson Reuters Foundation









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Dark web crackdown on opioid traffickers triggers 179 arrests across world, including four in UK | Science & Tech News



Police have arrested 179 people, including four in the UK, as part of a global crackdown on dark web opioid trafficking.

More than $6.5m (£5m) in cash was seized in a series of arrests and raids across the US and Europe, which came more than a year after the Wall Street Market darknet site was closed down.

At the time the site – which was operated by three German nationals – was one of the largest online illegal marketplaces, allowing users to purchase illicit items ranging from fraudulent documents to drugs and weapons.

It was accessible though the anonymity-preserving Tor browser, which is legitimately used around the world by people whose access to the internet is controlled by authoritarian governments, but which has also provided criminals with a mechanism to frustrate law enforcement.

The US Department of Justice nicknamed the crackdown Operation DisrupTor – a reference to the software – and said its investigators were continuing to work to identify individuals behind darknet accounts.

The three Wall Street Market administrators were arrested last year after conducting a so-called exit scam, suddenly disappearing with the cryptocurrency they held in escrow for the vendors and purchasers who traded on their site.

Alongside cash and virtual currency, the crackdown led to the seizure of more than 500kg of drugs – around 275kg of which was captured in the US – and 64 firearms.

The drugs included 17kg of fentanyl and 97kg of methamphetamine, along with heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and other opioids.

FBI officers in Ohio shut down what was described as “one of the most prolific online drug trafficking organisations” in the US, “which operated using the moniker ‘Pill Cosby’.”

Another narcotics vendor called “NeverPressedRX” was, the FBI said, “so intent on securing his online criminal enterprise that he conspired to use explosives to firebomb and destroy a competitor pharmacy”.

The arrests included 121 in the US, two in Canada, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the UK, three in Australia and one in Sweden, according to the US Department of Justice.

“There will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace,” the DoJ said in its statement.

“Today’s announcement is very much a success story in international law enforcement cooperation, as crime on the darknet is truly a global problem that requires global partnership.

“However, the global nature of the threat also means that foreign countries who fail to act can easily become safe harbours for criminals who seek to pump lethal, addictive drugs into the US from abroad.”



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