Protecting Refugees in Colorado: A Model for Progress

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) traced more than 10 million refugee border crossings from Ukraine to nearby countries.[1] Yet, UNHCR has actively recorded up to 3 million Ukrainians—mostly women, children, and the elderly—returning home.[2] Conflict in Ukraine continues, yet nationals are choosing to live in war-torn country rather than risk uncertainty as refugees.[3] Why? Refugees, “the most vulnerable and marginalized people of any community… are at risk of victimization,” including human trafficking crimes.[4] Although refugees being forced in labor,[5] sex work, or even the sale of their organs[6] is unfortunately common, news from Ukraine highlights an ever-increasing global human rights crisis.[7]

Colorado protects such vulnerable displaced persons through the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), whose mission is to “inform social change that ultimately ends human exploitation”[8] and models its “4P” approach by following global and federal legislative protocols.[9] LCHT identifies and partners with grassroots organizations providing services to refugees across the state, plus conducts regular research to identify what successful efforts and areas of opportunity to improve upon what is already being done to keep displaced persons safe.[10]

In 2019, LCHT reported that human trafficking is present in the state and it comes in many forms: “Overwhelmingly, Coloradans believe human trafficking to be sex trafficking; however, our current research shows that we are beginning to include and characterize nuances within labor trafficking descriptions.”[11] Because a majority of the humans trafficked within the state are often immigrants seeking refuge in the United States, LCHT’s goal is to educate the community—in urban, rural and, the frontier areas of Colorado—to understand the different types of human trafficking so they can readily identify and report any incidents to the appropriate authorities.[12] Additionally, LCHT credits its network of community service agencies across the state, providing on-the-ground resources and advocating for refugees, to help resolve the growing human rights issue in the state.[13]

Given the recent developments in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, the likeliness of Ukrainian refugees landing in Colorado increases.[14] In the meantime, Colorado also has an influx of Afghan refugees within the state after the United States completed its military withdraw in 2021.[15] Though this is an ongoing, global human rights crisis, Colorado is making progress by providing services to displaced persons and raising awareness efforts within the state.[16]  



[1] U.N. Refugee Agency, Operational Data Portal: Ukraine Refugee Situation (Aug. 30, 2022), https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine

[2] Id.

[3] Alice Hickson, Why Are Refugees Returning to Ukraine? New Lines Inst. for Strategy and Pol’y (Sept. 1, 2022), https://newlinesinstitute.org/ukraine/why-are-refugees-returning-to-ukraine/

[4] Dena Nazer, MD and Jordan Greenbaum, MD, Human Trafficking of Children, 49 Pediatric Annals e209, e209 (2020).

[5] Lameck Masina, Africa: Malawi Government Struggles to Probe Reported Worker Abuse in Oman, VOA News (Sept. 2, 2022, 2:57 PM), https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-government-struggles-to-probe-worker-abuse-in-oman-/6728879.html. Labor abuse of Malawian refugees has been reported across the Middle Eastern nation of Omani. “[A]s of now we have got seven cases [of human trafficking] that have been concluded and 71 of them are still active,” said Malawian Minister of Homeland Jean Sendeza. See also Laurie Berg, Sara Behm, and Anthhea Vogl, Refugees and Asylum Seekers as Workers: Radical Temporariness and Labour Exploitation in Australia, 45 U.N.S.W. L.J. 35, 36 (2022).

[6] Alex Mostaghimi, Trafficking in Humans and Body Parts, 38 Int’l Enf’t L. Rep. 269, 269-70 (2022). Former Nigerian senator Ike Ekweremadu and wife Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu face charges of conspiracy of arranging travel of a 15-year-old homeless, Nigerian boy to the U.K. with aims of organ harvesting for their daughter, who suffers from kidney disease.

[7] U.N. ODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020 at 4 (Jan. 2021).

[8] Lab’y to Combat Hum. Trafficking, https://combathumantrafficking.org/about-lcht/ (last visited Sept. 7, 2022). 

[9] Lab’y to Combat Hum. Trafficking, The Colorado Project 2.0 to Comprehensively Combat Human Trafficking at 3. (2019). The “4P” approach involves: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnerships. See also G.A. Res. 55/25 (Nov. 15, 2000); U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., GAO-06-825, Human Trafficking: Better Data, Strategy, and Reporting Needed to Enhance U.S. Antitrafficking Efforts Abroad (2006); U.N. ODC, Abuse of a position of vulnerability and other “means” with the definition of trafficking in persons, Issue Paper Submitted by Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section at U.N. ODC (Apr. 2013).

[10] Lab’y to Combat Hum. Trafficking, The Colorado Project 2.0 to Comprehensively Combat Human Trafficking at 3. (2019).

[11] Id. at 8.

[12] Id. at 12.

[13] Id. at 13. In its 2019 report, LCHT looked to different areas of services, including training/education, awareness raising, advocacy work, prevention services and prevention projects.

[14] Debbie Kelley, Ukrainian Refugees Coming to Southern Colorado a ‘possibility,’ as Afghan Resettlement Continues, The Gazette, Mar. 29, 2022, https://gazette.com/premium/ukrainian-refugees-coming-to-southern-colorado-a-possibility-as-afghan-resettlement-continues/article_da04b2fe-afae-11ec-bbbc-ff8cb556154b.html

[15] Dana Knowles & Lindsey Ford, Weekly Farming Group Heps Afghan Refugees Feel More at Home in Denver, Rocky Mountain PBS, Oct. 1, 2022, https://www.rmpbs.org/blogs/rocky-mountain-pbs/weekly-farming-group-helps-afghan-refugee-women-feel-more-at-home-in-denver/

[16] Melissa Reeves, Job fair tailored to Afghan, Ukrainian newcomers to Colorado, Denver 9 News, Oct. 10, 2022, https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/hiring-fair-afghan-ukrainian/73-2b1d0e1a-2c25-4c0a-b36f-6e7409b9b029