Geneva, June 5 (RFE/RL) - The shift from communism to capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has led to an increase in trade -- but not always in usual commodities. More and more, officials in those countries are forced to face the comparatively new, but burgeoning phenomenon, of the growth in human trade.
In Moscow alone, estimates put the number of migrants trafficked at 250,000. Most are Chinese and Sri Lankan Tamils.
Marco Antonio Gramegna is the Director of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration's (IOM) division of Planning, Research and Evaluation. Gramegna told RFE/RL two major trafficking trends have emerged in the CIS.
First, he said, is the use of the CIS and neighboring countries as a transit zone for trafficked migrants bound for the West. According to Gramegna, local and international smuggling syndicates -- particularly in Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- provide trafficking services to both economic migrants and genuine refugees. Most are from South and East Asia, but some come from as far away as Africa. Generally, all are bound for Western Europe and North America. Gramegna tsaid the routes used to smuggle these migrants are increasing in volume and complexity and can include several modes of transport, depending on the country of origin and final destination. For example, Chinese migrants often travel by air via Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Moscow. From there, they fly to a Western European destination or to the U.S. via London or Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama.
Other Asian, African and Arab migrants travel by land through the Baltic states and then by boat to Scandinavia, with possible onward travel to North America. Gramegna says Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus also are affected by trafficking, as migrants traverse these countries in an attempt to reach the "spoils" of Western Europe.
But for many, Gramegna says, the voyage can be costly both in terms of time and personal worth. He says travel can take anywhere from a few days to a few years. Further, long after they arrive, many migrants are forced to endure what can only be described as indentured service. Others, according to Gramegna, pay with their lives.
Exact figures are hard to come by but Gramegna told RFE/RL that as many as several hundred people die each year in transit, unable to endure overcrowding and insufficient food and water during the long journeys.
He says the trend is primarily fueled by weak border controls in the CIS and inexpensive yet comprehensive transport routes. Moreover, as entering CIS countries has become easier, crossing into Western Europe, he says, has become more difficult. That factor has led many migrants to be trapped inadvertently in the CIS or in Central Europe.
A second major trend in the growth of human trade is the trafficking of women from the CIS to the West for prostitution. Some come knowing full well there's money to be made in prostitution, but many others are lured into the profession.
Gramegna said the growing trade in women is being exacerbated by lax law enforcement and police cooperation, widely differing penal laws and an insufficient social safety net for such migrants.
Gramegna said that a conference in Vienna on June 10 and 11 will address these and other problems concerning the trafficking of women, in an effort to devise a final strategy document for member and associate states of the European Union.
The meeting, organized by the European Commission and the IOM, will bring together some 200 people, including the 15 EU-member states, the 12 associate states, the United States and Canada. Leading international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), and individual experts are also slated to take part.
Gramegna says that currently only Belgium and the Netherlands have initiated any efforts to stem both the transit migrant phenomenon and that of human trafficking. He says there have been no such efforts made in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe -- a situation he hopes will change after next week's conference.
Gramegna says the most important message at the conference will that the issue is one of migration -- not criminal problems -- and that a coordinated, international solution must be applied. In his view, the regional approach suggested by some would be a disaster. As Gramegna put it, "the problem would then just transit or traffick to another country."