22 June 2004, Volume 4, Number 15
LA STRADA: THE STREET WITHOUT JOYBy Tereza Nemcova
On 31 March, the Czech website idnes.cz reported that Czech police had arrested and expelled four Ukrainian night club workers from Stara Voda in western Bohemia. The workers had forged passport stamps from Prague's Ruzyne Airport and reportedly obtained them from an unknown man for the price of 120 euros ($145). A year earlier, in April 2003, the Czech police's Anti-Organized Crime Unit arrested two Ukrainian men, one Czech man, and a Czech woman, on charges of trafficking in women for prostitution in the Czech towns of Hazlov and As, idnes.cz reported. The two Ukrainians, Mikola Didych and Viktor Sidorchuk, are said to have trafficked some tens of women from Ukraine and Slovakia. According to the report, they made profits of 5.7 million Czech crowns ($216,363) from the trade.
While many of the criminals involved in trafficking are caught and prosecuted, the victim is often left to fend for herself, without travel documents, money, or working papers. La Strada, a nongovernmental organization that has been active in the Czech Republic since 1995, works to protect and help women trafficked for sexual exploitation. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women were returning to their home countries in Central and Eastern Europe after being smuggled or tricked into working as prostitutes in the West. Back home, the women needed a support mechanism to help them reintegrate into society.
La Strada, whose name comes from the Italian for "the street," has been funded for the past nine years by the Dutch Justice and Foreign ministries in cooperation with the Dutch Foundation Against Trafficking in Women. The organization has offices in the Czech Republic, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, and Ukraine. La Strada tries to raise awareness in society about the problem of trafficked women, the prevention of human trafficking, assisting individuals, as well as political lobbying.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING: THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN
La Strada representatives say that there have been certain changes in women-trafficking trends. While formerly the Czech Republic was more a country of origin or transition, it is now also a country of destination having undergone significant social changes after the fall of communism in 1989. Victims of trafficking tend to come from an economically weaker region to an economically stronger one. That means that women are trafficked not only from Eastern European countries to Western Europe, but also from economically depressed regions in their own country.
According to a September 2003 Czech government report, most trafficked women in the Czech Republic come from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria. Romany women from Slovakia are also a group at high risk. More than 50 percent of women assisted by La Strada come from the countries of the former Soviet Union, although new trends show an increased number of women arriving from China, Vietnam, Slovakia, and occasionally Turkey. In the report, it is estimated that the purchase price of one woman is between 1250 and 1500 euros.
La Strada provides a maximum of six months of counseling and room and board for the victims of trafficking. The estimated monthly cost of care provided by La Strada is 12,150 Czech crowns ($473) for a Czech or foreign citizen. La Strada also works with the Czech Catholic Charity, which often takes on women after three months of La Strada care. The International Office for Migration (IOM) also assists in various cases by covering the costs of new travel documents, visas, or travel expenses, estimated to be around 10,000 crowns per person.
Following that, the Czech government provides the rest of the assistance. The crucial point at this stage concerns the willingness of the victim to cooperate with the police in the investigation and prosecution of the traffickers. If the victim cooperates, she is given asylum. If, on the other hand, she is too scared and refuses to cooperate, this can result in expulsion from the country. According to Klara Skrivankova, a prevention coordinator at La Strada, the "risks of retrafficking are rather high, and some experts suppose that almost the half of the persons end up retrafficked."
La Strada works closely with the Czech police's Anti-Organized Crime Unit. Police officers receive special training on how to deal with victims of trafficking and put many women in contact with La Strada.
However, most women trafficked to the Czech Republic for sexual exploitation refuse to cooperate with the police. According to La Strada representatives, many women have a general distrust of the police, a trait brought from their native countries. According to Skrivankova, cooperation with regional police in the border areas, where prostitution is prevalent, has not been extremely positive. On the other hand, she says that "to break the vicious circle [of human trafficking for sexual exploitation] it takes much more than the work of one NGO or interagency cooperation on a national level -- which I'm glad to say has improved greatly in the past years." "In the Czech Republic there are channels of cooperation between state agencies and NGOs," she adds.
In those cases where the victim does decide to trust the Czech police, there is still fear for the security of their family back home. Traffickers usually "draft" women from their own regions and are therefore well informed about the victim's family. Often families rely on money sent home by trafficked women. In addition, many victims fear that her family or relatives will find out what her "real" job was abroad, which can lead to being ostracized upon returning home.
This doesn't appear to be the case with Czech citizens trafficked abroad. The press office of the Czech Police Department of Security told RFE/RL that during 2003, around 800 Czech citizens, both men and women, contacted Czech embassies throughout the world, claiming to be victims of trafficking. And according to the IOM's Czech Republic Mission Director Lucie Sladkova, the country with the highest number of Czech women reported to have been trafficked to is Italy, with 10 cases reported in 2003.
During the course of 2003, as part of the UN's Global Program against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Czech Institute for Criminology and Social Prevention (IKSP) carried out research related to trends in the trafficking of Czech citizens. The research was based on information provided by Czech embassies; the highest number of Czech victims of trafficking during the last five years was reported at Czech embassies in Washington D.C. (400 cases), in Paris (65 cases), followed by Tokyo (around 25), Madrid and Vienna (each around 20), and Bonn (around 15).
By launching a 15-month twinning project between the Czech Republic, Netherlands, and the U.K. on 9 June, the Czech Republic is aiming to strenghten its legislation and training for specialists, as well as to implement new methods in order to fight more effectively against human trafficking. The project will receive up to 950,000 euros from the European Union's Phare program.
HUMAN SMUGGLING: RISKING A BETTER FUTURE
According to Czech police reports, more than 78 percent of human smugglers are Czech citizens. The rest are from China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany, and Vietnam along with some Moldovans, Russians, Poles, Armenians, and Afghans.
The Czech Republic is usually a country of destination for people being smuggled and, in a number of cases, also a transit country. The available statistics, however, do not present an accurate picture of the numbers of people involved. In 2003, police reports state that a total of 584 people were identified as smugglers and 169 of them were charged with illegal smuggling. A Czech government report from September 2003 states that the estimated amount paid to smugglers by illegal migrants is around 5,000 euros. The aforementioned IKSP research states that the average sum paid by Czech citizens to smugglers was around $1000 to get to Japan and $500 to get to the United States. Human smuggling -- differentiated from trafficking as it is a voluntary illegal migration -- can lead to involuntary servitude in sweat-shops or sexual or other forms of exploitation.
Czech police figures on the numbers of smuggled people do not reflect the actual situation. In 2003, official statistics say that out of a total of 13,206 illegal immigrants, 2,136 were smuggled. Experts believe that such a low number does not reflect reality and that the number of illegally smuggled people is much higher. More than 56 percent of the smuggled people in 2003 were citizens of China, followed by citizens of Russia (13.6 percent), India (6.4 percent), Moldova (4.7 percent), Georgia (3.6 percent), Iraq (2.6 percent), Serbia and Montenegro (1.7 percent), Turkey (1.5 percent), Vietnam (1.3 percent), and Sri Lanka (1.1 percent).
Based on information provided to RFE/RL by the Czech police, in 2001, a joint operation of Czech, German, Austrian, and British police stopped a large group of smugglers, who had managed to smuggle over 60,000 Afghan citizens through or into the mentioned countries during that year. The smugglers themselves were native Afghans, some of them holding citizenship of the country they worked in, and their estimated profit was $330 million.
In March 2004, the Czech police's Anti-Organized Crime Unit arrested a group of nine Czechs and Asians who were suspected of smuggling Asians into EU countries via the Czech Republic. The group was headed by a 29-year-old Czech citizen and is estimated to have smuggled over 800 Asians through Czech territory. At the end of April, eight Czechs and three Slovaks were convicted of having smuggled at least 116 migrants through Czech territory with a financial profit of $20,000. One of the members of the group was an officer in the Slovak State Police.
On 2 June, Czech police arrested a married couple in the town of Uherske Hradiste, who could face up to 10 years in prison for organizing illegal migration. Police discovered a new trend, as the migrants were not actually passing through Czech territory. The main suspect, a 29-year-old man, was smuggling people from Pakistan and India through Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, and Poland into Germany. He ran the operation from his cell phone in the Czech Republic. His operation reportedly smuggled an estimated 600 people over a year and made a total profit of around 27 million crowns (over $1 million). According to the police, each migrant paid around $1,500 for the transport.
In the Czech Republic, as in other postcommunist countries, human trafficking and smuggling are illegal according to paragraphs in the criminal code on cross-border trafficking and sexual exploitation. The 2000 UN Palermo Convention protocol has not yet been ratified and the Czech legal system still lacks specific paragraphs that would enable the Czech system to combat more effectively another serious issue -- prostitution as a result of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, slavery, or forced labor.
Czech law on prostitution is ambiguous and largely depends on the specifics of each case. A proposal for a new law on prostitution, which aims to legalize the trade through licenses for workers, enforced monthly medical check-ups of workers, registered brothels, and taxation, has been a hotly debated issue. While the initiator of this law -- the Czech police department of the Interior Ministry -- believes that the law would help to curb enforced prostitution, La Strada Prevention Coordinator Skrivankova says that neither legalization or criminalization are "tools for solving the problem of trafficking."
La Strada argues that legalization will not prevent forced prostitution -- only alleviate it -- and, on the other hand, will create a much more serious problem: foreign females forced into prostitution without a license will not be helped, but fined or arrested. The fine for illegal prostitution suggested by the proposed law would be between 5,000-15,000 Czech crowns. "We would like to see that the law also thinks about the prostitutes themselves," says La Strada Director Petra Burcikova, "and not only about the interest of the state to get income by taxing this activity."
In a document provided to RFE/RL by the Police Press Department, the Czech Interior Ministry explains that there hasn't been any progress in a new law on prostitution primarily because the Czech Republic is bound by the International Agreement on Suppressing and Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Prostitution from 1949. This agreement binds the signatories not to accept any laws that would de facto legalize prostitution. Most of the countries belonging to this agreement are the former Soviet republics and members of the Warsaw Pact. The Czech Republic became party to this agreement in 1958. Countries sharing a similar attitude toward prostitution as the Czech Republic are Belgium, Finland, France, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K. Austria (with the exception of the state of Vorarlberg), Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Nevada (U.S.), and also to some extent Turkey, have fully legalized prostitution. Countries where prostitution is not legal but tolerated with some exceptions are Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Sweden, according to research published by the University of Exeter in the U.K. (http://www.ex.ac.uk/politics/pol_data/undergrad/aac/index.htm).
Note: This issue follows up on "Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 24 May 2004. La Strada representatives visited RFE/RL in April. The briefing report is available on RFE/RL's Regional Analysis website.