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European Union

Legal Framework

Relevant legislation and policies

The 2005 Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beingsis a regional human rights treaty of international human rights law by the Council of Europe.

The Convention aims to:

  • Prevent and combat all forms of human trafficking, including, but not limited to, sexual exploitation and forced labour, whether national or transnational, whether or not connected to organiseorganised crime;

  • Protect and assist victims and witnesses of trafficking;

  • Ensure effective investigations and prosecutions: and

  • Promote international co-operation against trafficking.

In particular, the Convention requires national co-ordination measures, awareness raising, measures to identify and support victims and a "recovery and reflection period" during which trafficked persons will not be expelled from the receiving state.

The Convention establishes a monitoring mechanism (the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, or GRETA) consisting of 10 to 15 members elected by the states’ parties.

The Convention opened for signature on the 16th of May 2005 and entered into force on the 1st of February 2008. As of June 2017, it was ratified by 47 European States. Every state in the Council of Europe has ratified the Treaty - binding to effectively fight trafficking in human beings. It sets out a series of minimum measures that states which become parties to this treaty are obliged to take, with a view to ensuring the protection of trafficked persons, the prevention of trafficking, and the prosecution of those responsible for it. The assistance and protection measures required include a recovery and reflection period, as well as a range of assistance and protection measures for persons reasonably believed to have been trafficked that are not conditional on a person’s agreement to cooperate in any law enforcement effort against the traffickers, and, in some circumstances, a renewable residence permits to trafficked persons.

The 2005 Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings is available in English and French.

Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA (OJ L 101, 1 15.4.2011). The Directive provides binding legislation to prevent trafficking, to prosecute criminals effectively, and to better protect victims, in line with the highest European standards.

The Directive also sets out to strengthen prevention as well the protection of victims. It takes a victim-centered approach, including a gender perspective, to cover actions in different areas, such as criminal law provisions, prosecution of offenders, victims' support and victims' rights in criminal proceedings, prevention and monitoring of the implementation. The Directive 2011/36/EU is available in 23 languages.

Regional Plans of Action

2012-2016 EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings: The 'EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016' is a comprehensive and forward-looking policy instrument that follows on from the Anti Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU. The Strategy expands on issues identified in the Directive, and is consistent with its holistic approach. It focuses, therefore, on prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships, and also on ways to raise awareness on emerging concerns related to trafficking in human beings

See also:

The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings was currently updated in 2020. The actual strategy hereby mentioned will be replaced by the new one, to be adopted in 2021.

  • The first EU Strategy on victims' rights (2020-2025) was released in 2020. This strategy is based on a two-strand approach: empowering victims of crime, and working together for victims’ rights. It is crucial to empower victims of crime so they can report crime, participate in criminal proceedings, claim compensation and ultimately recover – as much as possible – from consequences of crime. These ambitious objectives can be achieved only if the Commission and all relevant actors work together. That is why this strategy focuses also on strengthening cooperation and coordination.

  • The strategy presents five key priorities: (i) effective communication with victims and a safe environment for victims to report crime; (ii) improving support and protection to the most vulnerable victims; (iii) facilitating victims’ access to compensation; (iv) strengthening cooperation and coordination among all relevant actors; and (v) strengthening the international dimension of victims’ rights.

  • EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling (2015 – 2020). The European Agenda on Migration, which was adopted by the European Commission on 13 May 2015, identified the fight against migrant smuggling as a priority, to prevent the exploitation of migrants by criminal networks and reduce incentives to irregular migration. The Agenda set the goal to transform migrant smuggling networks from 'low risk, high return' operations into 'high risk, low return' ones.

  • This first EU Action Plan sets out concrete actions to counter and prevent migrant smuggling, while ensuring the protection of migrants’. It is based on a multidisciplinary approach, involving actors and institutions at local, regional, national and international level. It covers all phases and types of migrant smuggling, and all migratory routes. The Action Plan should be seen in the broader context of EU efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration, in cooperation with countries of origin and transit, and prevent the loss of lives caused by smugglers and traffickers. It should also be seen in connection with the on-going work to establish a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), operating to systematically identify, capture and dispose of vessels used by smugglers. Available in (English) (French)

Monitoring Mechanism

Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA)

  • GRETA was established to monitor the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, signed in Warsaw, on the 16th of May 2005.

In accordance with Article 38, paragraph 1, of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (“the Convention”), GRETA evaluates the implementation of the Convention following a procedure divided into rounds. At the beginning of each round, GRETA selects the specific provisions on which the evaluation procedure is based.

  • The first round of monitoring of the Convention provided an overview of its implementation by State Parties;

  • The second evaluation round of the Convention examined the impact of legislative, policy and practical measures on the prevention of trafficking in human beings (TIP), the protection of the rights of victims of trafficking, and the prosecution of traffickers, paying particular attention to measures taken to address new trends in human trafficking and the vulnerability of children to trafficking;

  • The third evaluation round will focus on access to justice and effective remedies for victims of trafficking in human beings.

Each year, GRETA edits a general reportwhich can include a thematic chapter: 6th Report: - Trafficking in Children; 7th Report: human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation; 8th Report: Assistance to victims of human trafficking. GRETA has developed a questionnaire for States to report their progress on the implementation of the Convention. In addition to this written procedure, GRETA has also decided to visit all the countries that are subject to the evaluation. The Report it prepares, the conclusions it draws and the recommendations it makes to governments will be based on all information it has gathered.

In the past years, GRETA has shown to be keen to receive inputs from NGOs for their evaluations and to cooperate with them. For NGOs that wish to engage with GRETA, La Strada International and Anti-Slavery International have developed a Guidance (English only).

Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings:


General Reports on GRETA’s activities

International Cooperation

EU Civil Society Platform and e-Platform against trafficking in human beings

  • Civil society continues to be a key partner in the joint efforts to address trafficking in human beings. Its contribution is acknowledged and valued, and building and strengthening partnerships has been at the core of the EU agenda since 2012.

The Platform was launched in 2013 as a key action of the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016 (Priority D, Action 3), and currently brings together over 100 participants from across the EU and beyond. The Platform is complemented by a further online e-Platform, launched in 2014 to include further participants while overcoming logistical and budget constraints, as well as to give continuity to the discussions held in meetings in Brussels, fostering information exchange and facilitating its dissemination.

FRONTEX – European Border and Coast Guard Agency

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is governed by Regulation (EU) 2019/1896  of 13 November 2019 on the European Border and Coast Guard (OJ L 295, 14.11.2019, p. 1).

Since 2004, Frontex aims at improving the management of the external borders in order to ensure a high level of internal security in the EU and to tackle cross-border crime. Frontex has three strategic objectives: reduce vulnerability of the external borders based on comprehensive situational awareness; guarantee safe, secure and well-functioning EU borders, and plan and maintain European Border and Coast Guard capabilities.

Cross-border crime is understood as “any serious crime with a cross-border dimension committed at or along, or which is related to, the external borders”. In that objective, Frontex addresses migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.

In line with the European Integrated Border Management concept, the Agency coordinates its cross-border crime related activities, also with Europol and other relevant actors.

Here are the relevant Frontex initiatives:

One of the main challenges for border authorities is to make crossing borders as smooth as possible for travellers while detecting any illegal activity at the same time. This is why the EU is setting up ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. The new system will grant authorisation to travellers who do not need a visa to visit the Schengen area. Frontex will set up and manage the ETIAS Central Unit, which will process travel applications, support travelers and carriers in the fulfilment of their obligations under the ETIAS Regulation. Currently, ETIAS is in the development phase and is expected to become operational in December 2022. Frontex, EU-LISA and Europol have begun preparations for this important European project.

The Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community (AFIC): was set up in 2010 to provide a framework for regular knowledge and intelligence sharing in the field of border security between Frontex and African countries. The concept of this collaboration was broadly based on the model of the Frontex Risk Analysis Net-work (FRAN). To know more about AFIC see here presentations (English only) and annual reports (English only).

EU4 Border Security project: this project seeks to enhance border security in the Southern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Levant by fostering bilateral and regional cooperation. It will contribute to building trust, understanding, structured partnerships and exchange of experiences and practices in the Integrated Border Management (IBM) domain. The project will familiarise the participating countries with the mandate and work of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and enhance their capacity to conduct risk analysis, situation monitoring and tactical border and coast guard operations, thus contributing to the fight against security threats, particularly organised crime and terrorism in the region. Operational and country specific capacity building support will be based on the priorities identified by the partner countries. To know more on the EU4 Border security project, see here the relevant publications (English only) and leaflet, in French.


Europol is the European Union Agency for law enforcement throughout the EU. Its mandate covers crime fighting activities including trafficking in human beings and facilitated illegal immigration.

Trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants is one of the EMPACT priorities – Europol’s priority crime areas, under the 2018-2021 EU Policy Cycle.

EMPACT is an ad hoc management environment to develop activities in order to achieve pre-set goals. It is a structured multidisciplinary co-operation platform of the relevant Member States, EU institutions and agencies, as well as third countries, international organizations and other (public and private) partners to address the prioritized threats of organiseorganised and serious international crime/

European Migrant Smuggling Centre - EMSC

The EMSC was established in early 2016, following a period of highly dynamic irregular migration, with vulnerable migrants travelling largely unrestricted in sizeable groups across the Mediterranean Sea, external land borders and, further on, into Europe, towards their desired destination countries.

Europol established that many migrants had their journey facilitated by criminal organizations, at least for the initial sea journey into Europe. These facilitation services often took the shape of a risky sea crossing in a completely unsuitable and overcrowded vessel. Migrant smuggling quickly evolved into a very lucrative form of criminal enterprise, which circumvents and abuses sea border countermeasures deployed in solidarity by EU Member States and agencies.

Tackling this multi-billion-euro trade, thus, became an essential part of the EU’s response to the migration crisis. Indeed, the EU’s Agenda on Migration (2015) identified the fight against migrant smuggling as a key priority.

The EMSC closely cooperates with its partner EU Agencies dealing with judicial cooperation (Eurojust) and border management (Frontex).

European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation - Eurojust

Established in 2001, Eurojust supports and strengthens coordination and cooperation between national investigating and prosecuting authorities.

Eurojust assists prosecutors and other investigators from EU Member States in cases of serious crime where that crime affects two or more Member States, or requires prosecution on common bases, on the basis of operations conducted and information supplied by the Member States’ authorities, Europol, the EPPO and OLAF.

Eurojust acts at the request of the competent authorities of the Member States or on its own initiative. In some cases, Eurojust can act at the request of the European Commission or the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Eurojust reports: Annual report 2019 (English) (French)

European Union / External Action / Military and civilian missions and operations

The European Union has undertaken many overseas operations, using civilian and military instruments in several countries in three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia), as part of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Each EU mission works in the framework of a comprehensive approach. The mission works in agreement and coordination with the EU Delegations in the same area and in the framework of EU regional policies.

The decisions of deployment and management of the mission are taken by the EU countries during the Foreign Affairs Council.

Annual report 2018 - Common Security and Defence Policy Missions and Operations

To date, the relevant CDSP Missions and operations are the following:

On 5 December 2017, EUBAM Libya established a light presence in Tripoli. The Mission has maintained the resilience, efficiency and effectiveness of operational delivery, particularly during challenging security-related events, as it also has an office in Tunis.

EUBAM Libya supports the Libyan authorities in developing border management and security at the country’s land, sea and air borders. As a civilian crisis management mission with a capacity-building mandate, EUBAM assists Libyan authorities at strategic and operational level. The work is carried out through advising, training and mentoring Libyan counterparts in strengthening the border services in accordance with international standards and best practices, and by advising the Libyan authorities on the development of a national Integrated Border Management (IBM) strategy.

The Sahel has a prominent place in European Union’s policies. The EU has numerous interests in the region, ranging from combating security threats, terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration to assuring energy security.

The ongoing instability in the Sahel, and the transnational nature of the security threats have confirmed the relevance of the regional approach taken in the European Union's Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel from March 2011.

EUCAP Sahel Niger, the CSDP civilian mission launched at the request of Niger's government in the summer of 2012, is an important element of the European Union's Sahel strategy, together with other development and stability instruments of the EU. EUCAP Sahel Niger aims to help establish an integrated, coherent, sustainable and human rights based approach among the various Nigerien security actors engaged in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. As such, the mission is meant to provide advice and training to support the Nigerien authorities in strengthening their capacities. Over 100 international experts, the majority of whom from European security forces and justice departments, are permanently deployed in Niamey.

EUCAP Sahel Mali is a European Union civilian mission based in Bamako, Mali. It was launched on the 15th of January 2015, following an official invitation by the Malian government to assist the internal security forces to reassert the government's authority over the whole country, following the crisis in northern Mali, that left large parts of the country under the control of various factions. The Mission constitutes an important element in the regional approach of the European Union's security and development strategy for the Sahel.

The mission provides experts in strategic advice and training to the Malian Police, Gendarmerie, National Guard, and to the relevant ministries in order to support reforms in the security sector. EUCAP Sahel Mali supports the efforts of the Malian state to modernize its security forces and enable them to ensure effective protection throughout the country.

In support of Mali's active efforts to restore state authority, and in close coordination with other international partners, particularly the Delegation of the European Union and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), EUCAP Sahel Mali provides assistance and advice to the national Police, the national Gendarmerie and the National Guard in implementing the security reforms set out by the new government.

EUTM Mali constitutes the military pillar of the EU strategy in the country, which includes other fields such as political and humanitarian development. The mission was born in 2013 to respond to the need to strengthen the capabilities of the Malian Armed Forces, with the ultimate aim to have self-sustaining armed forces in place, capable of contributing to the defense of their population and territory.

Since the approval of the Fifth Mandate in March 2020, the strategic objectives of the mission have been:

  • To contribute to the improvement of the capabilities of the Malian Armed Forces under the control of the political authorities;

  • To consolidate the improvements achieved since 2013;

  • To contribute to the political stabilization and improvement of the security situation in Mali through support for the      implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement;

  • To support the restoration of state control and the rule of law throughout Mali;

  • To Support G5 Sahel, through the consolidation and improvement of      the operational capabilities of its Joint Force, strengthening regional      cooperation to address common security threats, especially terrorism      and illegal trafficking, especially of human beings.

The Sahel countries have recognized the need for interregional security cooperation to tackle common challenges and threats. They asked the EU for advice in this endeavor. The Regional Coordination Cell (RCC) analyses, plans and proposes measures for strengthening defense and security cooperation among the Sahel countries.

The RCC is not a CSDP mission, but a CSDP action, with a wider geographical scope than a single mission and a more comprehensive mandate. The security experts of the RCC form a network within EUCAP Sahel Mali and within the EU Delegations in the Sahel countries.

The RCC’s strategic objectives are to support cross-border cooperation, to support regional cooperation structures, in particular those of the G5 Sahel, and, in this context, to enhance the national capacities of the G5 Sahel countries.

Other Instruments

  • The European Migration Network (EMN): it aims to provide up-to-date, objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum to support policymaking in the EU and its Member States. It also provides the general public with such information through its website.

  • EU Immigration Portal: it is practical information about working or studying in the EU for more than 90 days, and family reunification in the EU. (available in English and French)

  • La Strada International (LSI) - a European Platform Against Trafficking in Human Beings. LSI it adopts a human rights perspective in support of trafficked persons. The platform aims to prevent human trafficking and to protect and stand for trafficked persons’ rights. This is done by providing access to adequate assistance and support via information/knowledge exchange, capacity building of NGOs and other stakeholders, and cross-sectoral cooperation. Furthermore, great focus is put on monitoring and advocacy for change, particularly to ensure accountability for the effective implementation of european anti-trafficking policies and regulations. La Strada International is active at a broad European level. Currently, the NGO Platform comprises 26 member organizations and 2 associate members in 23 European countries.

  • EU Commission, DG Migration and Home Affairs: A study on smuggling of migrants (2015): characteristics, responses and cooperation with third countries ( see final report available in English)

  • EU Contact list: The EU Contact list offers contact information to coordinating bodies in EU Member States responsible for  anti-trafficking initiatives, as well as other government bodies and agencies working in the field of anti-trafficking. It also offers contacts to EU institutions and agencies, international and non-governmental organizations.

  • European National Hotlines directory

  • List and contacts of EU delegations: available in English and French)

  • List of contact directory of EU countries agencies regarding residents permits

  • Missing Children Europe hotline

  • First Line Practitioners Network: Based in Vienna, the First Line Practitioners Network provides latest information, practical guidelines, community and exchange as well as training and exercises, services and tools for first line-practitioners such as teachers, social workers, youth workers, (mental) health care workers and community police officers. As an overall objective, the platform aims at supporting firstline practitioners in their daily work against group-focused hatred leading to radicalization, violent extremism, and crime.

  • Practical guide to enhance transnational cooperation - EU child victims of trafficking or in need of protection: A guide to enhance child protection focusing on victims of trafficking. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) developed this guide in cooperation with the European Commission’s Office of the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator. Available in English and French.

  • Guidance Note: On preventing and combatting trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation. Available in English.

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