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Island nation Seychelles not immune to human traffickers, warns UN rights expert

( UN News Centre ) - An independent United Nations human rights expert called on the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean island off the east coast of Africa, to prevent and fight trafficking in persons, while noting that the problem remains hidden owing to a lack of awareness.

"The potential scale of the problem of trafficking in persons in the country, its trends and scope appears to be underestimated or unknown, and needs to be further investigated by the Government and law enforcement agencies," Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, has  warned following her first official visit to the country.

Ms. Ezeilo noted that Seychelles - a sparsely populated island with a large influx of both tourists and migrant workers - is not out of reach of traffickers and their "nefarious" activities in today's globalized world.

"Trafficking in persons in Seychelles is at best insidious and remains hidden as a result of lack of awareness," she stated in a news release. Anecdotal evidence suggests that trafficking in persons happens and that Seychelles may increasingly become a destination country for both trafficking for sexual exploitation, especially of girls from Eastern Europe, and also for labour exploitation of migrant workers from India, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya, Madagascar and other nations.

She pointed out that the political commitment to end human trafficking clearly exists in Seychelles, noting its ratification of key international conventions and the creation of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee. She also highlighted the commitment of President James Alix Michel to fight the scourge which he conveyed to her during their meeting.

"However," she said, "the immediate concern is the absence of a legal and policy framework to prevent and combat trafficking in persons."

Ms. Ezeilo voiced regret that the Government had yet to criminalize trafficking in persons or put measures in place in critical sectors of the economy, such as tourism and fisheries, that will discourage sex tourism, child prostitution and trafficking in persons for labour exploitation.

She urged the Government to fast-track the draft anti-trafficking bill to fulfil its international obligations, and establish a national action plan to combat trafficking based on a human rights and victim-centred approach.

She also highlighted the need to collect data on trends, forms and manifestations of trafficking, its causes and consequences, in collaboration with research institutions and in close cooperation with international, civil society and faith-based organizations.

Ms. Ezeilo, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity, will present a comprehensive report on her mission in June 2014.