UN Migration Agency in Finland Releases Guidelines for Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking

The launch of the guidelines was held in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health at the Estate Hall in Helsinki. Photo: IOM 2018

Helsinki – Many health and social workers struggle to identify victims of trafficking, surveys show. The UN Migration Agency (IOM) office in Finland released practical guidelines for the identification and referral of trafficking victims on Tuesday (23/01).

Upon publication, the new guidelines received praise from the country’s Minister of the Interior, Paula Risikko, who said these guidelines should be included in the curricula used to educate nurses, doctors, police officers, border guards and social workers.

“This guide is an excellent tool for all professionals,” Minister Risikko said at a launch event. “It is concise and clear, very easy to read. It clearly states the problem and the solutions for those who might never have encountered a victim of trafficking before in their work.”

IOM Finland put together the concise guide with a cross-sectoral expert group, with support from the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA). The guidelines were launched at an event in Helsinki. During the spring of 2018 there will be events in several cities around Finland to promote the guide.

Health and social workers are in a key position to identify victims of trafficking, but they seldom have had sufficient training on how to do so. The new guidelines are meant to be a practical tool to help individuals recognize the signs that a person might be a victim, and how to proceed. Many victims of trafficking are deeply traumatized; therefore, professionals need to know how to handle clients who have been through such experiences.

In Finland, cases of human trafficking have been encountered in various fields; for instance, forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriages. Last year 127 cases were referred to the National Assistance System for Victims of Trafficking, but the actual number is thought to be higher. As in other countries, trafficking is a crime in Finland that is often not identified correctly. Victims might be treated as guilty of related offenses – such as irregular immigration or working illegally – when they have actually been trafficked.

Trafficking also is an often-unreported crime due to the victims’ shame and dependence on the perpetrators.

The new guidelines underline the importance of building trust with victims. It is recommended to inform them of doctor-patient confidentiality during consultations and always seek their consent for any further interventions.

In cases where children are suspected of being exposed to trafficking, child protection law bestows the right to act even without the child’s consent.

The path to recovery may be long, but with the support of knowledgeable health and social service professionals, it becomes possible.

 “Sometimes the professionals will have to give very hands-on assistance to the victim in getting help,” said Jaana Sipilä, coordinator of counter-trafficking projects at IOM Finland. “Many might have a lowered capability to function, and are unable to take initiative themselves.”

The guide includes three categories of factors that need to be taken into account: signs of trafficking, outside control and factors that might expose a person to trafficking.

Some of the signs that health and social workers can look for include, for instance, injuries or chronic diseases that have not been treated, a frail state of general health, evidence of substance abuse and addictions, and problems of sexual and reproductive health. Frequent injuries or signs of abuse could also be signs of trafficking. Issues with mental health and traumatic experiences are common, as are consequences of social exclusion. Young victims of human trafficking may show difficulties in school or studies.

“The younger the child is when falling victim to trafficking, the more he or she will have internalized the twisted self-image of him or herself as not worthy of more than being trafficked,”  said Anne Suokas-Cunliffe, a psychologist and psychotherapist who leads the Centre for Trauma Therapy and Trauma Education in Finland. “He or she might also resist any kind of treatment or help.”

During the next phase of the project, in-depth training will be arranged to enhance social and health professionals’ skills in treating and caring for trafficked persons. The project is a part of Government of Finland’s National Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings 2016-2017.

The guide is available in hard copy and can also be downloaded in Finnish from the IOM Finland website (

For more information please contact: Jaana Sipilä at IOM Finland, Tel: +358 9 684 11522, Email: