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Balkans: Report Says Human Trafficking Is On The Rise

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Stability Pact are warning in a new report that human trafficking is on the rise in the Balkans. The report says an overwhelming majority of foreign women working as prostitutes are victims of trafficking. It also highlights an increase in the number children trafficked for prostitution and forced labor.

Prague, 16 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A new report says trends in human trafficking in the Balkans are changing, with fewer victims being identified amid an overall increase in trafficking.

The report, titled "Trafficking in Human beings in Southeastern Europe," says only 14 percent of trafficked women were identified in the six months from November to April this year. The comparable number last year was 35 percent.

The report was compiled by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). It covered trafficking patterns in Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo.

The report says the drop in the number of identified victims was due mainly to the victims' refusal to give their names. It adds that the overall incidence of trafficking is rising, but does not estimate the total number of trafficked persons.

OSCE spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir explained: "It is impossible to give any figures because [human trafficking] is so hidden. There have been numerous attempts to raid bars for instance, in many countries. [This has] resulted in trafficking just moving to private houses, where it becomes much more difficult to see it. Another problem is that when the police [do] manage to find brothels where trafficked people are, [the victims] do not always come forward and admit that they are trafficked, because they do not want to be treated as criminals, they do not want to risk being sent back. They were fleeing poverty and misery in the first place."

The report estimates that up to 90 percent of foreign women in the region involved in prostitution may be victims of human trafficking. Gunnarsdottir says authorities consider a prostitute to be a trafficked human if she is kept in a confined space against her will or does not have proper identification documents.

"They [victims of human trafficking] do not want to be identified as trafficked [persons]. But if a woman does not, for instance, have a passport or any documents, and is locked inside a house or a room, then of course, that is a very strong indication that she is not there entirely by her own free will," Gunnarsdottir said.

The paper says around 10 percent to 15 percent of trafficked persons are children, under the age of 18. Klaus Guenther of the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) told RFE/RL that child trafficking has become an industry in Eastern Europe, with children being used not only for prostitution but also for begging or as forced laborers. "According to what we have seen in Eastern Europe, basically the children are being trafficked in particular for abuse in the sex industry -- but not only this," he said. "Children are also frequently trafficked to work in [the] industries of Western European countries or cities. That is basically a current trend that comes up in the region." The report confirms this trend. It says most children come from poor families or are identified as Roma.

Gunnarsdottir says more support needs to be given to victims and that police must cooperate better across borders. She said the authorities must stop treating the trafficked persons as criminals, but as victims -- and to "give them decent support so that they are willing to testify against the traffickers. There has to be [more of a] focus on traffickers themselves. There has to be an increased effort to get them and to ensure that they do not escape jail sentences because of flawed trials. There has to be increased cooperation between countries -- the police and border guards to stop cross-border trafficking. [What] I'm saying [concerns] every country in Europe, or most countries in the world."

The ILO's Guenther said there is a "clear connection" between illegal migration and human trafficking. But he says tougher asylum laws in destination countries are not the answer. "It would be definitely wrong just to throw the children or the adults out of the country and send them back to their countries of origin," he said. "There are some very good examples [of countries], I would name here particularly Italy, that have developed a [legal] protection system within the country to deal with individual cases and to give them all the support these human beings need. And only after they have received support in the receiving countries, there might be a good chance to send them back. On the other hand, if we really want to do something, we have to deal with the causes. That means we have to look at the issues within the sending countries. I think the best way to go about the problem is to help sender countries like Moldova, Albania, or Romania deal with the social problems they are currently facing in the transition process."

Guenther says more support is needed from the European Union and developed countries to combat the rise is trafficking.