Fighting Against Human Trafficking

Belgium has been a pioneer in tackling trafficking in human beings since the mid-1990s, when Europe became increasingly aware of this wide-spread phenomenon on its soil. Belgium was one of the first European countries to adopt counter-trafficking legislation, and in 1999 a multi-disciplinary committee was established to monitor and discuss the issue. Belgium also firmly placed the prevention and fight against human trafficking on the EU political agenda during its Presidency in 2001. Following the Belgian EU Presidency Conclusions, and with active participation from the Belgian Government and NGOs, IOM and the EU jointly organized the “European Conference on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings: A Global Challenge for the 21st Century” in September 2002 at the European Parliament in Brussels. The conference brought together over 1,100 participants representing European Institutions, EU member states, Candidate Countries and relevant third countries, international organizations, regional and national organizations, NGOs, universities and research institutes, media and other relevant counterparts from 59 countries. The core result of the conference was the Brussels Declaration on Prevention and Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings which outlined a set of recommendations for European policy, as well as an operational framework to address the phenomena.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, IOM implemented a number of counter-trafficking projects at the EU level that primarily focused on co-operation and networking between relevant officials. IOM aimed to increase knowledge of the phenomena, and promote best practices, many of which were pioneered by the Belgian counter trafficking practitioners.

Today, IOM and Belgium work in a variety of contexts to ensure that vulnerable populations are better informed of the faces and forms of human trafficking and to improve the socio-economic inclusion of marginalized communities who are at a high risk of being trafficked. In parallel, efforts are ongoing to ensure that communities and officials are more knowledgeable and capable of identifying and assisting victims, and that national institutions are equipped with legislation and well trained officials to tackle the many facets of human-trafficking.

Trafficking of persons is defined in article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other means of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the receiving or giving of payment to a person having control over another person,for the purpose of exploitation".

IOM counter-trafficking website

Migrant smuggling is defined by the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol against the smuggling of migrants, as "The intentional organization or facilitation of the irregular movement of persons across state borders, which is provided in return for financial or other gain by the migrants to the smugglers. Smuggling of migrants generally takes place with the consent of the person willing to move. However, the act of smuggling itself is often dangerous and violent, forcing people to unsafe and inhumane travelling conditions".

IOM fact-sheet on smuggling


For more information, contact Ms. Elisabeth Palmero (, tel: +32 (0) 2 287 74 22).

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