In my speech, I discussed the practical implications of the arguments set out in the book, specifically with regard to the war in Ukraine. Since the start of the full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation on 22 February 2022, the world and specifically the European Union has witnessed a shift in priorities, with an emergence of attention on the relationship between conflict-related modern slavery and human trafficking. However, despite widespread acceptance that there are connections between modern slavery and conflict, there continued to be a dearth of research examining the underlying reasons why the two are so closely interlinked.
I myself noticed this lack of research only when preparing training modules on conflict-related trafficking for the border force and frontline workers in Moldova with INTERPOL SOTERIA and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. As a result, I reached out to Dr Alicia Heys in the early months of the full-scale invasion.
The research which underlies From Conflict to Modern Slavery has since helped to train over 50 State, Civil and Law Enforcement organisations across Europe, with ten workshops held in eight countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, the UK and Hungary. From Conflict to Modern Slavery has been used to train war crimes investigators, border guards, anti-trafficking authorities, Ombudsmen, the Red Cross and other refugee agencies, with great success: 98% of participants demonstrated a significant self-reported improvement in their understanding of the relationship between conflict and modern slavery/human trafficking.
It was striking that despite Dr Heys’ research having been conducted prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, her thesis - that a reduction in agency and a removal of support networks underly the increase in risk of modern slavery following conflict - applies perfectly to the Ukrainian context. As with other conflicts and wars, we have seen a separation of families with the introduction of Martial Law across Ukraine, increased economic desperation with the closing down or destruction of places of work and a sudden need for over 11 million displaced Ukrainians to find shelter, housing and tend to their basic needs. The options for Ukrainians narrowed, and therefore the opportunities for traffickers to exploit these newly created vulnerable situations expanded.
Where Dr Heys’ book is brilliant is in illustrating the universality of these experiences. Conflict and subsequent refugee flows have indeed increased since the full-scale invasion, but not just because of the Ukrainian context. Seven military coups have taken place over the last three years in Africa. The Tigray War of Ethiopia has continued since 3 November 2020, while displacement as a result of conflict has continued in Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan. Yet while the EU has provided Ukrainian refugees with relatively expansive rights under the Temporary Protection Directive, UK laws continue to become more restrictive towards asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants.
From Conflict to Modern Slavery is therefore an important and timely reminder to refocus our attention on the importance of not only recognising the relationship between conflict and human trafficking, but to delve deeper into the causality thereof, and the steps that both governments and individual actors can take to counter it.
It is my hope that the book is given both the literary and academic praise it deserves, and at a higher political level that the recommendations it outlines are taken seriously.