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Southeast Europe: Antitrafficking Campaign Shows Results

  • Don Hill

Prague, 28 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A massive report made public today in Belgrade says that strenuous efforts by international organizations, NGOs, and national governments to counter trafficking in human beings in Southeast Europe finally are showing effects.

Since September 2000, as the report puts it, "There has been a massive change of attitude and government involvement" in counter-trafficking activities across the Balkans and Southeast Europe.

The report focuses country by country on Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, and federal Yugoslavia, as well as its constituent republics of Montenegro and Serbia. It says governments in the region have shifted from a position two years ago of denying the problem to one of giving antitrafficking activities priority at the ministerial level.

Ambassador Stefanno Fenin, chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), singled out the Yugoslav government for praise in a telephone interview with RFE/RL: "For the attitude of the FRY authorities -- they have taken the issue extremely seriously. We have started working with them more than a year ago, and they have been extremely supportive at all levels -- the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, police, courts -- in order to address the issue in the best possible way."

However, the report says trafficking in human beings -- that is, illegally transporting people across national boundaries into slave-like conditions -- remains a horrendous problem, involving more than 500,000 victims in the region.

The 270-page report was published by the United Nations Children's Fund and issued today by the OSCE and the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

One of the gravest impediments to countering trafficking in human beings, the report says, continues to be the attitude of police, who continue to regard the problem as one of illegal migration for purposes of prostitution rather than as, in the report's words, "a massive violation of human rights."

Ambassador Fenin said a high priority is to figure out how best to aid trafficking victims: "Then how to change the legislation, which is a crucial point, because trafficking has to be recognized as a crime."

Finally, he said: "To raise awareness in the public opinion and also to change a little bit the attitude, the mental attitude, of the people, who consider trafficked persons as essentially just prostitutes and not as victims of the racket which has developed all throughout the region."

The report says 90 percent of illegal migration in the Balkans sex trade involves victims of trafficking.