Safe migration aims to move the policy focus of human trafficking onto the wellbeing of the people involved. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Safe migration aims to move the policy focus of human trafficking onto the wellbeing of the people involved. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Redefining the conversation

Human trafficking has long been a huge dilemma for governments worldwide.

But viewing it as a solution, rather than a problem, could change that, as EVANA HO reports.

We're familiar with the images of human trafficking.

Hungry, tired people crammed into the back of a truck.

Underage girls deceived into becoming sex workers.

However, a policy shift is taking place and it's one that requires us to rethink our approach to labour migrants.

It's a shift that is defined by terms much less attention-grabbing than human trafficking.

But it's one that has the potential to affect greater positive change in the lives of millions worldwide.

In 2013, the United Nations (UN) estimated there were 232 million international migrants.

Those moving within and beyond eastern and southern Africa often do so "in pursuit of better economic opportunities", according to the International Organization for Migration.

The use of migrant labour has frequently been marked by exploitation.

In response, governments have attempted to deter migration and strengthen border control.

This, say experts in the field, created a market for human traffickers. And so governments and non-governmental organisations created anti-trafficking programs.

ANU anthropologist Dr Sverre Molland, whose research is focused on the Mekong region, a hub of labour migration activity, describes the disillusionment with anti-trafficking interventions in that area.

"After all these years, we're still debating definitions of what is really trafficking.

"There's no real consensus on the scale, let alone whether these interventions have had any impact," he says.

Molland, who served as an adviser to the UN on an anti-trafficking program, says the reactive nature of interventions largely involves only responding when someone is in trouble.

"Certain law enforcement people will say that's a deterrence because you're making it more risky for people to traffic people. But there's little evidence to suggest that's the case," he says.