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Caucasus/Central Asia: OSCE Official Speaks Out On Human Trafficking Initiative

Europe's largest security and human rights watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is launching a three-year, $2.5-million initiative to fight the increasing trafficking of human beings in Southeastern, Central, and Eastern Europe. RFE/RL talked to Helen Santiago Fink from the Anti-Trafficking Program, about the plan's objectives, as well as the situation in other regions, such as the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Prague, 16 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- On 15 March, the OSCE is launching the Anti-Trafficking Program. RFE/RL began by asking Fink what its main components will be.

Fink: The program was developed in follow-up to the [11th] OSCE economic forum [in Prague] last year [in May], which dealt on trafficking in the wider scope addressing human beings, drugs, and small arms. The office of the economic coordinator [at the OSCE] looked at the recommendations that came out of that forum and developed the trafficking program to address those [issues].

Basically, the program is threefold. One [component] is looking at self-regulation within the private sector -- self-regulation of [tourism and transportation] industries. The second tier, the second component of the program, is awareness-raising in Western countries, looking to address the demand side of the trafficking problem. And the third component of the program is economic empowerment -- looking to bring new economic opportunities to vulnerable and at-risk population groups, to potential victims of trafficking.

RFE/RL: International organizations say the most serious form of trafficking in human beings deals with trafficking for sexual exploitation. What are the regions and countries most heavily involved in this activity?

Fink: The countries of origin for trafficking have been Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova -- when we're looking at Southeastern and Central Europe. A lot of these countries in the Balkans also serve as transit countries, those being Bosnia [and] Serbia and Montenegro. In some cases, it's very difficult to categorize them as clearly transit countries or countries of origin or countries of destination. And Kosovo now is a country of destination, given the large military presence there.

There's also a lot of intra-territorial trafficking that's developing. It's not only that people are being brought from Moldova to the Balkans [for example], but within the Kosovo territory itself there's trafficking being done, from, say rural areas to the capital city.

RFE/RL: Besides trafficking for sexual exploitation, there are other forms of trafficking gaining ground, like trafficking in workers from poorer areas of the continent, such as Moldova or Romania, toward richer Western countries. Can you explain further how the plan intends to tackle both issues?

Fink: We will be looking initially at self-regulation of the travel and tourism industry -- Western tour operators informing their clients, many of them that are going to destinations where there is a sex tourism industry, informing them that this can be illegal, particularly if you are involved with minors. The first two years the plan is to focus on the travel and tourism industry in terms of self-regulation. But then we will turn to the transportation sector to ensure that there is no trafficking in human beings. So, regular controls of containers.... We're looking to work with [the transportation sector], probably starting in year three of the program, and then looking at other industries, like agriculture, where there's also a lot of trafficking done."

RFE/RL: Some critics argue that the increasing trafficking in human beings is also a result of growing demand in the West -- whether for cheap sexual services or cheap labor. Could you point to more concrete examples of how the plan intends to raise awareness in the West that human trafficking is a crime?

Fink: We have been in consultations with the UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime]. They have developed a 45-second trafficking public service announcement that they've already aired on the BBC and CNN. We're working with UNODC to bring it to the airline industry in some of the Western countries -- other audiences within the Western countries.

RFE/RL: The Anti-Trafficking Program only partially covers the OSCE region. There are human trafficking problems in other areas of the continent, such as the Caucasus. How is the OSCE helping countries in that region?

"We will be looking initially at self-regulation of the travel and tourism industry -- Western tour operators informing their clients, many of them that are going to destinations where there is a sex tourism industry, informing them that this can be illegal, particularly if you are involved with minors."
Fink: I could say some of the countries -- for example, I know Azerbaijan -- have recently adopted a national strategy to address trafficking, and the OSCE and our field mission there will be working with the government to help them implement the strategy to address the problem.

Armenia is also a country that has some problems of trafficking. There's also a lot of poverty in Armenia, and we have developed some economic empowerment programs to try to create new economic opportunities and perspectives for some of the underserved regions -- largely the border regions, where there's refugees or the greatest level of poverty. We provided youth entrepreneurship training. We're targeting young people between the ages of 15 to 25 years of age, and we've provided them training in terms of how to start their own business.

RFE/RL: The five Central Asian nations have been members of the OSCE for more than a decade. Are they involved in the fight against the trafficking in human beings?

Fink: Central Asian republics are still, I think, a little bit further behind in terms of acknowledging the problem of [human] trafficking. That is still an issue that, I think, still needs a lot more political recognition and needs to be higher on the political agenda in Central Asia.

There are IOM [International Organization for Migration] reports that a lot or some of the trafficking that's taking place from Central Asia is going to Arab and the Middle East countries, the [United Arab] Emirates, Dubai being a central point in which then the women are being further disseminated in the region -- in the Middle East region.