Accessibility links

Breaking News

Europe: Human Trafficking And Its Victims Get New Focus

Human trafficking. Slavery. Sexual exploitation. Whatever you call it, it's become one of Europe's major scourges. Now, a top European human rights body, the Council of Europe, is paying increased attention to the problem. This month alone, it's devoted a meeting and a training session to the trade in human beings. And it is also in the final stages of drafting a convention against trafficking. RFE/RL spoke about the issue with the Council of Europe's deputy secretary-general.

Strasbourg, 23 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Maud de Boer-Buquicchio has been talking about slavery and human trafficking a lot recently.

Earlier this month, de Boer-Buquicchio, the Council of Europe's deputy secretary-general, gave a speech on the topic.

Yesterday, she opened a weeklong trafficking workshop for officials from Southeast Europe that includes training in how to combat the trade and how to help its victims.

And she's also involved in drafting a new European convention against human trafficking.

Why the focus now?

"We have seen a definite increase in the phenomenon of trafficking in Europe. Although we don't have reliable statistics and figures, we can say that the trafficking in human beings is indeed increasing. It is absolutely clear that the profit that is being made out of this commerce is enormous. It is believed it is actually higher than the profit arising out of drug traffic," de Boer-Buquicchio said. "It affects all countries as places of origin, transit, and destination, and all relevant countries in this respect find themselves in the Council of Europe. That explains why the Council of Europe is concerned by this issue. But above all, we are concerned because it affects human dignity as it targets as victims persons who are particularly vulnerable -- that is to say, women and children."

The trade affects the Council of Europe's 45 members all along the trafficking chain. The body includes countries of origin like Romania -- where new research suggests up to one in nine young women are at high risk of becoming victims -- transit countries, and destination countries in Western Europe.

Typically, the human face of trafficking is the young woman lured abroad with a promise of employment. When she arrives, she is trapped instead into a life of prostitution.

But it's not just these women. Trafficking also involves migrant workers duped into forced labor -- what de Boer-Buquicchio calls domestic slaves.

"[Here] we are talking about three categories of persons. First of all, think of the persons who are recruited in their home country by agencies to take up domestic work abroad. Many of these people, these migrants, originate from countries from Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. These migrant workers find themselves in debt because they have borrowed money to cover their agency fees. Then there are those who are trafficked in the classical sense. They are very often deprived when they are involved in this work of all forms of facilities that would render their freedom. They are deprived of their passports. They are not allowed to leave their homes in which they work. So they are physically also restricted. The third category are those persons already employed as domestic workers in a third country and who follow their employers to a European country for a fixed period of time," de Boer-Buquicchio said.

The convention now being drafted seeks to tackle the problem through raising awareness, as well as assisting victims. It would help crack down on unscrupulous agencies and employers. There are also plans for a monitoring body that will report on how countries are upholding their commitments.

"We have seen a definite increase in the phenomenon of trafficking in Europe."
"The preventive measures also consist in the criminalization of the act of trafficking, which is hopefully going to have a deterrent effect. But above all, this convention is designed to deal with the situation of the victims once they have been subjected to this objectionable trafficking. It would provide for practical facilities like shelters for the victims, where they would be secure. It would also provide for legal solutions to the victims in that they would be granted on a provisional basis a residency permit, in particular when they are ready to cooperate with the investigation authorities to provide information on the traffickers. The assistance for victims is not only a question of housing, it's also a question of medical, psychological assistance and providing them even with financial support and guidance to pursue their existence in a more dignified way away from the traffickers," de Boer-Buquicchio said.

De Boer-Buquicchio acknowledges that those residency permits are likely to be a tricky issue, as many Western European states are trying to curb immigration.

"This is, indeed, one of the more difficult areas which is currently being negotiated among the Council of Europe member states because, as you say, it's linked to migration policies. But what is very important -- and I think the message is being taken up by our member sates, particularly the receiving countries -- is that when you put on balance the need to regulate migration flows and the situation of the victims of trafficking, the interference and violation of human dignity of the victims is so strong that that should prevail. And whatever policy is being adopted in terms of migration flows, when you are faced with such human dramas, it should be possible for member states to consider exceptional measures," de Boer-Buquicchio said.

De Boer-Buquicchio says she hopes the convention will be adopted by the middle of next year.