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That time I was arrested for human trafficking: my experience at CoESPU

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

My name is Nicolò, I have always been a bit of an idealist and I have always had the desire to try to change things for the better. My dream is to work in humanitarian crisis management. However, dreams do not come true by themselves: we must create as many opportunities as possible to grow and improve in the hope of becoming human rights professionals who can make a difference.

Throughout my studies, I have always felt that studying in books was not enough, so I placed great importance on experience in the field. I often have found myself studying to perfection, how a certain international mechanism works, what articles are contained in a certain convention, or what measures should be taken in a certain humanitarian crisis. However, looking from afar is simply not enough. Sometimes, you have to touch something up close to understand it. Participating in the European Union Police and Civilian Services Training (EUPCST) live exercise gave me just that: the chance to touch something I had only studied before.

The training was organised by the Centre of Excellence for Stability Police Units (CoESPU) of the Carabinieri in Vicenza. CoESPU was created by the Carabinieri in 2005 through an agreement between the Italian government and the G-8 nations. The centre acts as a think tank and training centre that aims to train peacekeepers specialised in managing the transition from a post-conflict situation to a more stable reconstruction environment, through a people-centred and community-based approach. It does so in cooperation with the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (UNDPO) and NATO.

The whole group of participants in the EUPCST training, CoESPU, Vicenza, April 2022.

The training was conducted in a two-week simulation. I participated as a role player in a counter-human trafficking operation as part of an EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) civilian crisis management operation. The mission took place in a fictional state, affected by deep instability and subject to security threats related to the presence of criminal organisations involved in terrorist activities, drug trafficking, and exploitation of migrants for prostitution. In this context, I played the role of a migrant recruited and forced to work as a drug mule. During the simulation, police officers-in-training were supposed to uncover the operations of the criminal network.

During the first week, I learnt about the characteristics of a peacekeeping operation, the importance of the mandate of a mission for it to be effective, the investigative techniques used in an operation, and how psychologists and police officers should assist victims of trafficking. Each lecture was delivered by a professional with years of experience in field operations. Hearing from such knowledgeable people was inspiring. The speaker I was most impressed by was Dr Alessandra Morelli, a former delegate for UNHCR with more than 30 years of experience in humanitarian crisis management in high-risk contexts such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Somalia. Hearing Dr Morelli's story showed me how complicated, and at times frustrating, it is to work in the reality of humanitarian crises but also how, if you let yourself be guided by your passion and remain true to your values, you can have a positive impact on the world.

During the second week, we got into the heart of the action. The operation officially begun, and I observed both how an operations centre of a peacekeeping mission works and how an investigative unit carries out its functions. I was struck by the complexity that such an operation requires: every cog must work perfectly for the whole operation to function. Often, a miscommunication, a delayed e-mail, or an error in interrogating a suspect could slow down the entire operation by hours. When my time had come, I was finally to be arrested. The cops broke into the drug lab, had me lying on the floor, handcuffed, and then lined up against the wall with my hands behind my back. Everything went too smoothly, so I decided to try to escape only to be tackled by two Belgian policemen and taken to the station for questioning.

Because of my experience at CoESPU, I feel enriched. I have a clearer idea of how peace operations work, which are the real difficulties when working on the field, and how far I still have to go to realise my dream. Unexpectedly, I also had so much fun despite the stress of participating in daily activities, from sunrise to sunset, for two weeks straight. I would never have imagined that one day I would be arrested in an operation against human trafficking and, above all, that I would recount it as a pleasant experience. Sometimes, studying human rights can be very exciting!

Written by Nicolò Farinella Edited by Giulia Rosina


Nicolò graduated in Diplomatic and International Sciences and he is now a first-year HRG student. His dream is to work in humanitarian crisis management. Follow Nicolò on Linkedin: Nicolò Farinella and Instagram : uenicouaw

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