Capitalising on digital tools and non-governmental organizations engagement to counter trafficking in human beings in Azerbaijan

Our ongoing Action in Azerbaijan, which has started in October 2021, aims to tackle the challenging topic of Trafficking in Human Beings by bringing together government authorities and civil society organisations to exchange practices and benefit from EU expertise on the matter.

The scope of the Action is two-fold: first, it will strengthen the capacity of national authorities to counter Trafficking in Human Beings through digital tools and social media channels. Second, it will contribute to the engagement and coordination of relevant non-governmental organisations and public institutions.

In recent years, digital communications have exposed the public sector and civil society to new challenges. Social media channels, dating apps and other tools can put vulnerable groups at risk of Human Trafficking. The Azerbaijan government has realised how important is to ensure citizens’ safety in their online presence.

It is against that background that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan together with a coalition of 45 NGOs, led by Women Reformers and Innovation Public Union, are ramping up their efforts and cooperation to leverage digital tools to tackle a vital issue.

Setting the scene: trafficking in human beings in Azerbaijan

Although migration flows from Azerbaijan primarily revolve around Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Trafficking in Human Beings’ routes are part of larger global routes.  It has been documented  by the US Department of State[1] that Azerbaijani men and boys suffer labour exploitation while Azerbaijani women and children are exploited in sex trafficking rings.

Although the country has tightened prosecution with more stringent sentences and allocated more funding to assist victims, there is still a need to strengthen investigations by improving investigative and evidence-gathering capacities to corroborate the testimony of victims. 

Digital tools as a game-changer

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the greater role of information and communication technology in Trafficking in Human Beings, the authorities have increased regular screening of vulnerable populations. Many victims of Trafficking in Human Beings in Azerbaijan are being targeted and recruited via social media and online dating platforms, where personal information and location details are often available. 

The project beneficiaries will learn from EU experts the best digital technology practices to identify victims and perpetrators of Trafficking in Human Beings.

Assessing capacities and needs in Baku

To launch the action, the MIEUX+ team conducted an on-site mission in Azerbaijan at the end of October. The objective was to assess the capacities and needs of the partners when compared to the current legislative and institutional framework of Trafficking in Human Beings in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ombudsperson Office, the EU Delegation in Azerbaijan and the coalition of 45 NGOs participated in the assessment.

This assessment was essential to identify current trends on the use of information communication technology tools for sexual or labour exploitation. The experts paid specific attention to gender relations and gender-transformative approaches.

As Mr. Samir Haraev, Head of the Main Department on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings at the Ministry of Internal Affairs said: “This project is an excellent opportunity for our department and all stakeholders involved to learn from our European counterparts and exchange ideas on using modern technologies to identify victims and perpetrators of human trafficking. We also look forward to strengthening our engagement with the coalition of 45 NGOs in Azerbaijan.”

MIEUX+ experts from Poland and Azerbaijan will now work on organising knowledge exchange sessions and workshops with Azerbajani peers on the use of digital technology in combatting Trafficking in Human Beings, for example recruitment and investigation via social media, data collection and storage. A special component will be dedicated to NGOs involvement in supporting human trafficking victims through legal and medical counselling, and accommodation in shelter.  

The next steps will also include a strategy to enhance the collaboration among the government authorities and the NGOs coalition.

[1] Trafficking in Persons report 2021: Azerbaijan, U.S. Department of State