Every day, men, women, and children around the world are stripped of their basic rights and trafficked as sex workers, forced laborers, involuntary servants, or for their organs. The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking -- fed by poverty and corruption and facilitated by organized crime -- victimizes more than 20 million people globally.
On the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Economic and Environmental Forum in Prague, RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash spoke with Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the OSCE special representative for combating trafficking in human beings, on the latest trends in the battle against the epidemic.
RFE/RL: Give us a sense of the overall trajectory of this problem in the OSCE region. Is it getting better? Is it getting worse? Why?
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro: On one hand, I must say that the political will [to fight human trafficking] and the awareness [of it] has increased a lot over the past years, so from this point of view, there is an improvement -- a clear improvement. Countries have legislation, action plans, and schemes for victim assistance. On the other hand, the phenomenon -- the criminal phenomenon -- is really rampant and there's no indication of a decrease. On the contrary, the last estimates issued by [the International Labor Organization] indicate that the phenomenon is increasing, and of course, the response is still not commensurate with the magnitude of the phenomenon.
The phenomenon is not any longer an emergency, as we could think in the 1990s or early 2000s, [when] the idea was that it was an emergency linked mainly with sexual exploitation. Now we are confronted with the fact that there is major labor exploitation, other forms of trafficking, for example organized begging, trafficking for the removal of organs, or to force people to commit crimes. Some women have been used as mules to carry drugs, for example. There are multiple forms now. There is also a continuous demand for cheap labor and a continuous supply of people desperate for money, and this whole situation has been exacerbated from the economic crisis, of course. From this point of view, I would say that the situation is much worse now than a few years ago.
RFE/RL: Do you see a strong enough realization on the part of countries that they not only need to tackle human trafficking, but that they need to tackle what it is a symptom of -- that is, the underlying social issues?
Giammarinaro: Not yet; or not completely. Of course there is awareness that there are root causes contributing to trafficking. Of course, poverty is the first root cause, but I have to say that not always are the poorest of the poor the people targeted by traffickers. For example, young people have dreams and aspirations and [if] they don't find opportunities to pursue their aspirations at home, they are sometimes ready to leave, even in unsafe conditions. There are also other problems -- lack of job opportunities for women; discrimination; marginalization of communities such as the Roma community. There is a very complex array of factors.
What I am trying to promote in [the entire] region, as a special representative of the OSCE, is awareness that if you want to tackle trafficking, you have to tackle all the related policy areas and to deal with the underlying factors, which are, as you said, social issues, mainly.
RFE/RL: What are the notable improvements that have been made by OSCE countries in recent years in the fight against human trafficking? What are the most pressing impediments?
Giammarinaro: As I said, all OSCE countries have in place something like a toolbox. The toolbox now is there. We couldn't say this even five years ago. But now the real challenge is to make full use of these tools and make them work on a large scale, because the massive scale of trafficking is what is new and what we have to deal with now. Impediments -- of course there are many. One of these impediments is that organized crime running the trafficking schemes has become more and more, I would say, sophisticated. These are transnational networks, but composed of small groups that are loosely connected and very specialized. So if there is a successful operation, you catch some of the nodes of the chain, but you don't dismantle the whole chain. Another impediment is definitely corruption. Trafficking couldn't take place on such a scale if there were not corrupt officials and practices at every stage of the trafficking process -- not only at the borders for example, but even in countries of destination.
RFE/RL: How difficult is it for the OSCE to work on this issue in countries with generally closed societies, such as Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan?
Giammarinaro: We work in all the OSCE countries. We work with governments and the civil society. This is an important, essential part of our work. There's no possibility to work effectively on trafficking without the cooperation of civil society. If civil society is not vibrant or there are restrictions, of course antitrafficking action lacks one of the crucial actors.
RFE/RL: You visited Moldova earlier this week. What is the human trafficking trend there, in Europe's poorest country?
Giammarinaro: In this country, in which anti-trafficking action started, I could say, 10 years ago, now there is a sort of -- and I'm trying to promote it -- a sort of second wave of anti-trafficking action. At a certain moment it seemed that the attention was going down. Sexual exploitation was not the emergency it was in the past -- although it is still there -- but it was not such an emergency as in the 90s. Now there is a new wave, based on the awareness that trafficking is such a systemic phenomenon. A component, unfortunately, of certain migration flows, the labor market, and certain sectors of the economy [in Moldova]. We have a huge -- unfortunately, a huge -- phenomenon of children left behind by parents migrating abroad and the vast majority of them end up in orphanages or residential schools. Of course, when they are close to adulthood, they don't have sufficient life skills and they are under economic pressure, so they are easy targets. But now Moldova has established new and effective administrative positions in order to make antitrafficking action more effective. This is a very interesting development.
RFE/RL: One area that has long been known as a trafficking hotspot is the Balkans. How has the trafficking situation changed since the wars of the 1990s and is it still as acute?
Giammarinaro: In the Balkans we observe a shift from the perception of trafficking as something linked with the post-war situation -- and, of course, in the Balkans there was the big problem of trafficking somehow fostered by the presence of internationals. That's something that has been tackled at the UN level. Now, step by step, there is more awareness that the phenomenon is actually different. There are now people recruited in the countries of the Balkan region and going abroad to work and severely exploited, so it is a completely different picture. We know -- of course it is from anecdotal evidence [because] nobody has precise figures -- but we know that the recruitment of workers ready to migrate abroad is really flourishing.