Nieuws en agenda

Traumas of refugees and migrants neglected

PRESS RELEASE 21 November 2016 - European as well as Dutch policies on migration and victims of human trafficking should devote much more attention to the traumas people suffer during migration. That is the position Professor of Human Trafficking and Globalization Conny Rijken took in her inaugural address at Tilburg University on Friday November 18, 2016.


Professor Rijken’s address offers the audience a virtual experience of the journey people make when they flee from war, disaster or oppression, or when they leave of their own accord. She will describe the many ways in which refugees and migrants can fall victim to human trafficking, human smuggling, exploitation, abuse and exclusion. 

According to Rijken, the lack of recognition and acknowledgement of such traumatic experiences is shocking. For example, victims of human trafficking as a rule only obtain a right of residence if they assist in criminal investigations whose objective is to prosecute the perpetrators, yet more often than not such investigations are not or cannot be conducted. Once they arrive in Europe, refugees and migrants are often vulnerable and the risks they face of becoming victims (again) are many.

It is well known that in Greece and Italy many illegal migrants struggle to subsist on the fringes of society. In 2015 their number in Greece alone was estimated at 900,000. These migrants do not report to the authorities, because their chances of being granted asylum are slim, because they would rather go to a Northern European country, or because they are not admitted to the camps. Human traffickers and exploiters are constantly lying in wait for these vulnerable people, and the plight of these migrants is exacerbated by the reluctance of the EU Member States to help Italy and Greece.

Humanitarian duties

In today’s globalized world, where global stability is in everyone’s interest, we not only have a legal duty but also a moral duty to help these people in their need and to share the burden of doing so, Rijken argues. Given our humanitarian duties, the current treaty-based distinction between protected refugees and unprotected migrants has become untenable.

Moreover, Rijken asserts, the policy to keep refugees from entering European territory, as evidenced by the EU-Turkey deal and European cooperation with such countries as Sudan, Libya and Eritrea, poses a number of problems. One thing this policy demonstrates is how poorly we understand (or how unwilling we are to understand) what is really happening.

Rijken’s mid-term research plans aim to fill several knowledge gaps. She will explore how different types of victimhood should be addressed in legislation, to what extent the EU and its Member States violate international treaties and how illegals manage to survive in cities. The survival study Rijken conducts as part of the Data Science for Humanitarian Innovation research program of Data Science Center Tilburg.

Read more in the inaugural address: Victimisation through Migration

Open Your Eyes exhibition

To draw further attention to human trafficking, Tilburg University is host to the Open je ogen (Open Your Eyes) exhibition as of November 15, 2016. Thirty striking portraits combing image and narrative aim to raise public awareness of the shapes and scope of human trafficking. The thirty portraits have been captured in a pictorial and in a touring outdoor exhibition of thirty billboards.

Professor Conny Rijken has been Professor of Human Trafficking and Globalization at the International Victimology Institute Tilburg (INTERVICT) of Tilburg Law School since January 1, 2016. Her key area of attention is exploitation and other violations of human rights in the context of global migration. Her professorship is partly funded by CoMensha.

Note to editors

Professor Conny Rijken accepted the Chair in Human Trafficking and Globalization on November 18, 2016 by delivering her inaugural address, entitled “Victimization through Migration”. For more information and interview requests, please contact the press officers of Tilburg University at 013 – 466 4000 or at persvoorlichters@tilburguniversity.edu. Conny Rijken can be reached at 013 -466 3185/3526.