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US applauds Slovak efforts to fight trafficking

ABOUT 12 million people are facing forced work and sex trafficking worldwide, according to an estimate by the US Department of State, which recently published another of its annual reports mapping human trafficking around the globe. The report praised Slovakia for making progress in the fight against human traffickers.

ABOUT 12 million people are facing forced work and sex trafficking worldwide, according to an estimate by the US Department of State, which recently published another of its annual reports mapping human trafficking around the globe. The report praised Slovakia for making progress in the fight against human traffickers.

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 analyses human trafficking worldwide, including in the US, and evaluates prevention, prosecution and protection of victims that individual states provide via their systems against human trafficking. The report, presented in Washington on June 27, 2011 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, came as good news to Slovakia, which has advanced from the middle rank, tier 2, to the top, tier 1, in the international evaluation.

“Slovakia has made substantial progress in the specific area of trafficking in persons, which is basically another name for modern slavery,” US Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick said as he announced the results at a press conference on June 28. He added that Slovakia’s advance from tier 2 to tier 1 (the report defines three tiers, tier 3 being the bottom) reflects a lot of hard work that had been done over the years by the Slovak authorities. According to Ambassador Sedgwick, Slovakia has done a much more effective job in investigating, prosecuting and sentencing traffickers, but noted “this doesn’t mean that the hard work is finished”.



Becoming a destination country



According to Zuzana Vatráľová, the head of the Slovak office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Slovakia identified 30 victims of human trafficking during the last year, but not all of them were registered in the victim protection programme, which enrolled 26 people. The report stated that Slovakia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. The forced labour of Slovak men and women takes place in the agricultural and construction sectors in western Europe, primarily the United Kingdom. Slovak women are subjected to sex trafficking to the Netherlands, Germany and other areas of Europe.

Ukrainian and Romanian men and women were allegedly forced to work in Slovakia.

Victims are reportedly transported through Slovakia from the former Soviet Union and forced into prostitution within the country and throughout Europe.

Vatráľová said that since human trafficking is a kind of business, economic development will logically turn Slovakia into a destination country.

“The more advanced Slovakia is and the higher its standard of living, the more it becomes interesting for foreigners, and therefore likely to become a destination country,” Vatráľová told The Slovak Spectator.

According to her, Slovakia is already a transit country. For example, in the Czech Republic non-governmental organisations have identified victims from Moldova or Ukraine who say they have passed through Slovakia.

“But when they are crossing Slovakia, heading for the vision of good earnings, they are very hard to identify, because at that time they are not yet aware that they are being deceived,” Vatráľová said. She added that in order to prevent people who are crossing Slovakia from falling victim to human trafficking, preventive programmes are put in place in asylum and refugee camps in Slovakia to provide information on what to do in case those housed there later find themselves the victims of human traffickers – in Slovakia or in another country.



Improvements



The report praised the Slovak authorities for having achieved significant anti-trafficking success in the last year, citing an increase in the percentage of trafficking cases in which convicted offenders received time in prison, and the establishment of a human trafficking information centre in Košice.

According to Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, there are several organised people-trafficking groups active in Slovakia and they often have good lawyers, which means that it is crucial that prosecution and sentencing rules are set well.

But protecting the victims is an equally important task, Lipšic said. He explained that that the Interior Ministry seeks to provide a range of care for the victims, including financial assistance, legal advice, social services, health care and requalification. The minister noted that Slovakia is the only EU country that assists human trafficking victims of Slovak nationality to return to their homeland.

Anti-trafficking activities started in Slovakia through the IOM in 2003, when the organisation ran its first media information campaign. Since then, Slovakia has acquired a well-developed anti-trafficking system, including prevention, and a programme for the victims which was developed by the IOM and adopted by the Interior Ministry in 2007. The IOM also secures training for professionals such as police, NGO staff and social workers, to allow them to identify the victims of human trafficking.

“Thanks to this sophisticated approach – helping the victims, prosecuting human traffickers, and prevention – we have managed to cope with human trafficking in Slovakia,” Vatráľová said.



Roma targeted by traffickers



Even with all the praise, the Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 noted that the Slovak government’s “poor relations with the Roma community resulted in significant problems in victim identification and prosecutions, including a government estimate that only one-third of all trafficking cases involving Roma are investigated”. Roma children, women and men are subjected to forced begging in Switzerland and other countries in western Europe, and Roma individuals from socially segregated rural settlements were disproportionately vulnerable to human trafficking from Slovakia as they were under-employed, under-educated through segregated specialised schools, and subject to discrimination from law enforcement bodies, the report stated.

Vatráľová admitted in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that most victims of human trafficking from Slovakia come from Roma communities, but she stressed that the fact people are Roma does not make them more vulnerable to crime.

“It’s rather the fact that they come from an environment that is much poorer than normal,” Vatráľová said, adding that living in a socially excluded community and being under-educated and under-informed is what makes people more likely to fall victim to human traffickers.

Among its recommendations for Slovakia, the report recommends that efforts to identify trafficking victims among Roma communities should be increased.


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