As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Russia, and victims from Russia are exploited abroad. Although labor trafficking remains the predominant form of human trafficking in Russia, sex trafficking also occurs. Traffickers exploit workers from Russia and other countries in Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China, and DPRK in forced labor in Russia. Instances of labor trafficking have been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, transport, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, call centers, and begging. Labor traffickers also exploit victims in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, facilitation of illegal migration, and the production of counterfeit goods. According to an NGO, foreign nationals increasingly enter the country illegally with the help of criminal groups, which subsequently increases the migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. There are reports of widespread forced labor in brick factories in the Dagestan region. Experts estimate there were approximately 10-12 million foreign workers in Russia prior to the start of the pandemic, only 2.5 million of whom were formally registered; the government reported that nearly half of all migrants left the country as a result of the pandemic. Many of these migrant workers experience exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions. According to an international organization, children of migrant workers are vulnerable to forced labor in informal sectors. According to press reports, 2.3 million Ukrainians resided in Russia, including more than one million who escaped Russian aggression in Ukraine. International organizations estimate up to 40 percent of these migrants were working unofficially and vulnerable to both forced labor and sex trafficking; most identified victims of forced begging in recent years are Ukrainian. Subcontracting practices in Russia’s construction industry result in cases of non-payment or slow payment of wages, which leave workers at risk of labor trafficking. Organized criminal groups often recruit victims from within their own ethnic communities. Traffickers have been known to pose as landlords renting rooms to migrant laborers in order to recruit victims and coerce them into forced labor. There are reports of Russian citizens facing forced labor abroad. Traffickers lure minors from state and municipal orphanages into forced begging, forced criminality, child pornography, sex trafficking, and use by armed groups in the Middle East. Organized criminal groups recruit victims for forced begging from state institutions for the elderly and people with disabilities; these institutions are not trained on how to identify trafficking and sometimes facilitate the exploitation.
Women and children from Europe (predominantly Ukraine and Moldova), Southeast Asia (primarily China and the Philippines), Africa (particularly Nigeria), and Central Asia are victims of sex trafficking in Russia. NGOs report an increasing number of sex trafficking victims are from Africa, arriving illegally and legally as students. Sex trafficking occurs in brothels, hotels, and saunas, among other locations. During the 2018 World Cup, Russia relaxed its visa requirements, allowing all Fan ID holders to enter and exit Russia without a visa through December 31, 2018. Traffickers exploited this system to bring foreign sex trafficking victims into the country, especially from Nigeria; NGOs report many victims remain in Russia. Observers note migrant workers are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Homeless children are exploited in sex trafficking. Russian women and children are reportedly victims of sex trafficking in Russia and abroad, including in Northeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the United States, and the Middle East. Traffickers use social media to recruit, monitor, and control victims. Russian criminal groups threaten family members to coerce women into commercial sex in Russia and abroad. Women from Russia’s North Caucasus region as well as women from Central Asia residing in Russia have been recruited to join ISIS through online romantic relationships and are subjected to exploitation once they arrive. Wives and children of foreign fighters are sold after their spouse or father is killed in action.
The ILO Committee of Experts noted its deep concern in 2016 that some provisions of the Russian criminal code, which include compulsory labor as possible punishment, are worded broadly enough to lend themselves to application as a means of punishment for the expression of views opposed to the government. Corruption among some government officials and within some state agencies creates an environment enabling trafficking crimes. In recent years, criminal cases have involved Russian officials suspected of allegedly facilitating trafficking by enabling victims’ entry into Russia, providing protection to traffickers, and returning victims to their exploiters; in some instances, officials have engaged directly in trafficking crimes. Employers sometimes bribe Russian officials to avoid enforcement of penalties for engaging illegal workers. Prior to 2018, the DPRK sent approximately 20,000 North Korean citizens to Russia annually for work in a variety of sectors, including logging in Russia’s Far East. An estimated 500 North Korean workers remained in Russia as of March 2020, as did approximately 2,865 North Korean citizens who entered on student and tourist visas in 2020; observers note a growing trend in the use of non-labor visas to bring DPRK workers to Russia. Many of these North Korean citizens are subjected to conditions of forced labor by the North Korean government.
Russia-led forces reportedly recruit Syrian children to guard installations and fight in Libya. Uncorroborated reports of Russia-led forces using children as soldiers, informants, and human shields in eastern Ukraine continue, but the number of such reports has decreased since the early years of the conflict. Russia-led forces reportedly used children to take direct and indirect part in the armed conflict to perform armed duty at checkpoints, and served as fighters, guards, mailpersons, and secretaries.