Friday, May 22, 2009

Human Trafficking; Trafficking on the increase as economic crisis sweeps Eastern Europe

By Pavol Stracansky - IPS
Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

BRATISLAVA, May 22 (IPS) - The economic crisis sweeping Eastern Europe is leading to a sharp increase in people trafficking as people look to migrate for work amid rising unemployment and growing economic hardship, migration watchdogs and women's rights groups warn.

Trafficking gangs are preying on people they know are increasingly desperate for jobs as income dries up and people become willing to use any means they can to go abroad for work.

"The current economic crisis has had a great effect on countries of origin for people trafficking as people get poorer and want to emigrate at all costs," Jean-Philipe Chauzy, head of communications at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) headquarters in Geneva told IPS. "This leaves them vulnerable to people-trafficking gangs."

People trafficking has become a multi-billion euros global business. Estimates of people trafficked every year run into millions, with women the vast majority of those trafficked. Many are sold into slavery after answering advertisements for jobs abroad.

Members of international crime groups who organise transportation and 'sale' of their victims often pose as employers and ask victims to hand over their passports so that work permits can be arranged. But the victims are usually then drugged, beaten or raped into submission, with their only proof of identity, or way of getting back home, taken away from them.

Gang bosses and pimps often warn the abducted women that their family members back home will be hurt or killed if they go to local authorities.

The IOM says that now also a growing number of men, especially in some of Europe's poorest countries like Belarus, are falling victims to traffickers who put them into forced labour, mostly on construction sites.

In Belarus alone it is thought that up to 800,000 "missing" people could be working in Russia against their will. It is not illegal in Russia for employers to retain staff passports.

Eastern Europe has long faced problems with human trafficking. The IOM and the UN estimate, separately, that as many as 120,000 people from Eastern Europe are trafficked every year.

The economic crisis has plunged already poor countries in the region into even deeper poverty. "And poverty creates a greater risk of trafficking," Ludmila Tiganu, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Moldova told IPS. Moldova, Europe's poorest country, is believed to have one of the region's most serious problems with people trafficking.

"Poverty has increased, causing even more problems for the socially vulnerable," says Tiganu. "With the economic depression we have also seen a fall in remittances - money sent home to families here from people abroad, and this has been coupled with unemployment."

In Moldova and many of the Baltic states, traffickers are reported to be actively prowling nightclubs and bars, and tapping into Internet chat rooms looking for victims.

"The trafficking problem is building up, and the longer the recession lasts the more economic pressure there will be on people," the IOM's Chauzy told IPS.

Women's rights groups want governments to do more to tackle the problem. They say governments must implement existing legislation on people trafficking more efficiently, and aid NGOs working in the field to run campaigns to raise awareness of the risks of trafficking.

According to the IOM, repeated research has shown that while there is high awareness among Eastern Europeans about people trafficking, relatively few of those aware of it think they are at risk.

"Legislation has to be put into practice, not just left as a law written on paper," Iluta Lace, head of Marta, an NGO in Latvia that helps victims of trafficking re-integrate into society, told IPS.

"NGOs need to be given the funding and tools to battle trafficking. At the moment, in Latvia at least, there is no funding at all. Even a small amount of money can be used well and creatively by NGOs and help fight what is a very bad situation made worse by the financial crisis."
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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