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Trafficking in Human Beings: The EU Approach between Border Control, Law Enforcement and Human Rights

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The fight against trafficking in human beings has been high on the political agenda of international organisations, regional organisations and states for more than a decade. The European Union (EU) and the international community continuously reaffirm their commitment to work jointly in countering the phenomenon. After years of arguing over a common definition and approach that culminated in the first international definition in 2000, it could be assumed that the international and European definitions solve the issue of how to define and counter trafficking in human beings. Still, the debate on how to understand and approach the problem has not ceased to exist. In particular, the dominant opposition between a rights-based and a law enforcement approach has not been dissolved by calls for holistic or multi-faceted approaches. The aim of this article is to identify the approach taken by the EU, looking out for conceptual (in-)consistencies, underlying assumptions and convictions. The rationale guiding EU action is extracted and questioned by disclosing silenced aspects and contrasting them to their reappearance in other legal instruments. It is argued that the humanitarian intentions of victim protection are overshadowed by general anti-immigration conveniences. The approach taken by the EU not only provokes the somewhat artificial opposition between innocent victim and guilty migrant, but it can easily fall prey to deeply entrenched gender and racial stereotypes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-11-01

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