Illegal immigration and human trafficking: the terrifying connection between two urgent problems

The issues of immigration and human trafficking are often directly connected, and form a complex network of exploitation and crime. But why are the two issues so closely connected, and exactly how are they so closely interwoven with one another? In this article, we look at how the emergency situations of migrants are exploited, often ending in extortion and abduction.


Illegal migration is closely connected with the precarious life conditions which, for a wide variety of reasons, force people to leave their home countries.

These may range from poverty to political instability and violent conflict: these are just some of the reasons that force people to leave their home countries. According to details contained in the UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 108.4 million people around the world seeking refuge at the end of 2022, a figure which has underlined the urgency and complexity of the issue*.

It is exactly these people seeking refuge, unfortunately, who often end up being preyed upon by human traffickers, exploiting their emergency situation. These unscrupulous groupings appear to promise help in getting to the destination country or organising possible work once there, exploiting their victims’ sense of hopelessness. They present themselves as “mules”, demanding large sums of money for their services taking the migrants over the borders or getting hold of forged documents.

As soon as the migrants are in the hands of the traffickers, however, a true nightmare begins for many of them. They find themselves subjected to forced labour, often under exploitative conditions, without any safety measures, and without payment. These forms of forced labour range from slavery-like conditions in factories and agricultural production, through to sexual exploitation in illegal brothels or as a forced prostitute. Human trafficking has many faces, and is associated with enormous physical and psychological suffering for the victims.


Another highly concerning aspect of the relationship between illegal immigration and human trafficking is how extortion, or blackmail, is used.

The fact that illegal immigrants find themselves in a foreign country, without protection or legal support, makes them particularly vulnerable to such tactics.

Human traffickers make use of the hopelessness and the defenceless situation of the immigrants to maintain control over them. They threaten the victims with reporting them to the local authorities, which could mean deportation or have other legal consequences for the migrants. This fear of discovery and deportation to their home countries is designed to keep those affected in an obedient and submissive position.

Alongside this, the families and relatives of the migrants frequently also find themselves the focus of extortion tactics. The human traffickers threaten them with the use of violence against their loved ones or damaging them financially, to ensure the migrants comply with their demands and can continue to be exploited. These tactics of extortion exert strong emotional and psychological pressure on those affected, keeping them caught in a terrible situation of dependency.

The extortion strengthens the imbalance of power and the control of the human traffickers over their victims. The fear of possible consequences and the apparent hopelessness of their situation, make it extremely difficult for the victims to break free of this vicious circle.


Abduction of migrants is another highly worrying and unsettling phenomenon. This is a highly widespread crime in which migrants are abducted by unscrupulous criminal bands during their journey through transit countries, or along migration routes. 

Abduction of migrants serves financial motives first and foremost, as the bands demand ransom money from the families of the victims of the abduction, and to have them freed. This practice of extortion only increases the despair for the families further still, as they are forced to raise large amounts of money to have their much-loved relatives released. In some cases, the kidnappers will also force the migrants to work, or into prostitution, to cover the costs of the abduction. The victims are forced into modern slavery, and have to work under inhuman conditions, without appropriate payment or fundamental human rights.

In light of this alarming fact, it is essential that governments and international organisations strengthen their cooperation, and that an end is brought to this inhuman practice. Measures for the strengthening of border controls, fighting organised crime and the creation of secure and legal migration routes are of decisive importance. At the same time, victim protection programmes, such as those we offer at Hope for the Future, must be expanded in order to help abducted migrants and offer them a perspective reaching far beyond one of exploitation.


Here’s where you can find help in Germany:


  • Federal Criminal Police Office, Human Trafficking Department: +43-677-61343434

Translated by Tim Lywood

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