Current Affairs Human trafficking- a problem Europe can't ignore

17-03-2005 15:16 | Nikola Brabenec

The UN has declared human trafficking the third most lucrative crime, after drug smuggling and arms trafficking globally. An international conference in Prague this week focused on the increasing problem of human trafficking. An estimated 300,000 people are trafficked in the EU annually.

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One of the most targeted groups for trafficking are young women aged 18-24 from Eastern Europe. Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General for the UK speaks about the situation of these women:

"They are told, come for a good job in Milan, or Amsterdam or Madrid. Then it turns out it is not a job at a bar or a hairdresser, instead they are forced to have sex with many, many different men and the traffickers are paid. Sometimes they try to escape but they are capture and brought back again. Sometimes they are sold from one gang to another, so we are really talking about a form of modern day slavery."

So how much money can a person be bought for? And how much money can be made? Steve Harvey from the European Union's Serious Crime Department Europol:

"A woman purchased in Bulgaria for two or three thousand euros could be sold to a bar owner in Macedonia where he could look to make between ten to fifteen thousand euros, initial investment two or three thousands euros, one month's income ten to fifteen thousand euros you have recovered your initial investment."

Harriet Harman, photo: www.lslo.gov.ukHarriet Harman, photo: www.lslo.gov.uk In the trafficking business, the Czech Republic fits into all three of the trafficking categories: as a source country, a transition country and a destination. According to Antonin Vavrda from the Czech Police unit for Combating Crime, the majority of prostitutes in the Czech Republic are foreign nationals.

One unofficial topic of discussion at the conference was the fact that the wife of the Czech Republic's prime minister is a business associate of the owner of the building housing Prague's biggest erotic club. Delegates argued that even if clubs like this may seem relatively harmless, many of the women working in them have at some time been trafficked from abroad. Harriet Harman pointed to the international nature of the crime as a major challenge:

"In many cases you have one country which is the country of origin of the victim, another country which is the country of origin of the offender, you have a number of countries of transit and then you have the country of destination. So these cases are really international. Therefore, we need to work together international so that what is modern day slavery is tackled and stopped and nowhere in Europe is safe for the traffickers to go."

The international nature of the crime as well as corruption at all levels makes the crime difficult to investigate. Additionally, Steve Harvey notes that it is also difficult to get the victims of traffickers to testify against them:

"These women and children suffer daily abuse, they are raped and tortured, they witness things that you and I will never see in our lives. The trauma that these individual suffer means that you cannot speed up the process from victim to witness."

Even if the victims are able to overcome the trauma of their experience, they may run major risks by testifying against the traffickers:

"They will use any means to threaten the victim or the victim's family. The traffickers may know where they came from, they may have been part of the recruiting process, the threats may be directed at the parents, the children, the brother, the sister..."

I asked Harriet Harman how she thought the problem should be tackled:

"It's important that there be a good exchange of information in investigations and I think that it is very important that states help each other in obtaining legal evidence. I think it is also important that every European states recognizes that it is either a country of origin of the girls, or it is a country of transit or a country of destination and sometimes it might be more than one. It is no longer the case that anyone can say, it has nothing to do with us, so although we have different legal systems we have a common problem and we can work together on it."

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