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Weeks, Chris (2023) Human trafficking in the wake of disaster: A phenomenon displaced. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Disaster is frequently cited as a driver of human trafficking, with claims that typhoons, earthquakes or tsunamis create a chaotic post-disaster environment ripe for traffickers to recruit their victims. Increased poverty, displacement and a breakdown of law and order are said to be theoretical contributing factors. However, there is little discussion in the literature on how post-disaster trafficking unfolds, coupled with a dearth of empirical evidence on the topic. Starting with the case study of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, this research tests the existing disaster-trafficking discourse through field studies which yield two key findings. First, it is argued that staying put in the ‘central disaster zone’ results in fewer trafficking risks than leaving it. This is due to humanitarian aid pouring into the worst-affected areas to meet individuals’ basic needs, coupled with local officials’ hyper-vigilance in the postdisaster environment. By contrast, moving to the cities to seek employment dramatically increases trafficking risks, because individuals often arrive at their new destination with few resources and no connections to seek bona-fide employment. Second, interviews with formerly-trafficked people at three trafficking shelters in the Philippines point to a strong link between disaster and human trafficking, but with a notable ‘slow burn’ effect. Many respondents indicated that disruption to their lives from disaster, sometimes as early as childhood, prompted a chain of events which ultimately resulted in trafficking many years later. Together, these findings paint a very different picture from the oft-held assumption that traffickers exploit people directly in a disaster zone, in the immediate aftermath of the event.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Laura Hammond
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 02 Jan 2024 15:18

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