SLOVAK law enforcement made “very weak efforts” to combat human trafficking as the country now finds itself a source, transit and destination country for sex workers and forced labour, according to a report released by the US State Department.
The findings come as part of the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which covers 188 countries. While the report criticised Slovak government efforts on several fronts, the country does remain a so-called Tier 1 country, the category encompassing countries most actively confronting human trafficking problems. Slovakia moved into the Tier 1 category in 2011 and has remained there each of the past two years.
NGOs officially classified 37 people as victims of human trafficking in Slovakia last year. Prosecutors launched cases against 19 alleged traffickers in 2012, according to the report.
“A sharp increase of foreign citizens, mainly from Romania, begging in Slovakia may indicate potential trafficking,” the report said.
As was the case with the relatively small number of people officially categorised as trafficked in Slovakia, the report notes that just 46,000 people worldwide were officially identified as victims of human trafficking whereas the total number is estimated at more than 25 million.
“Victim identification is something that a government has a responsibility to do,” said Luis CdeBaca, the US ambassador at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, during a press conference launching the study. “That, in fact, is the theme of this year’s report, the notion that victim identification is the first step in stopping modern slavery.”
It was in such categories where Slovak government efforts received the most criticism.
“Slovak law enforcement authorities made very weak efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims,” the report said. “The Labour Inspectorate jointly examined agriculture and construction sites with police, but failed to identify trafficking victims despite indicators of forced labour in agriculture.”
Tomáš Varga, of the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Bratislava office, agreed that illegal foreign workers are often discovered by authorities, but rarely identified as trafficked persons.
“We know there are more cases,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “But no one is tracking them.”
Most of Europe falls into the Tier 1 category comprised of countries most effectively confronting human trafficking. Neighbouring Hungary fell into Tier 2 as did most of the former Yugoslavia, with the exception of Slovenia and Macedonia. The Baltic states, Portugal, Switzerland, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova were also in Tier 2. Albania, Belarus and Ukraine fell into the lower Tier 2 Watch List category, meaning they were in danger of falling into the lowest Tier 3 category. Russia is in Tier 3.
Globally, much of North Africa falls in Tier 3 as well as several Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and nearby Iran. China is the only East Asian country in Tier 3. Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere in Tier 3.
Back in Slovakia, human trafficking is most prevalent in the southeast part of the country, Varga of the IOM said. With programmes that focus on working with trafficking victims, Varga said that in the IOM’s experience “it’s mostly Slovaks that are trafficked”.
A common scheme saw guest workers exploited by agents in the United Kingdom who position themselves as middlemen between the migrants and their pay, often keeping much of the pay and benefits for themselves, Varga said.
The US State Department report highlights a particular prevalence of human trafficking among Slovakia’s Roma community, with Roma themselves often serving as the traffickers.
“Roma from socially segregated rural settlements were disproportionately vulnerable to human trafficking, as they were underemployed and undereducated, due to lack of access to quality education in segregated schools,” the report said. “Traffickers, particularly prominent individuals in Roma communities, found victims through family and village networks, preying on individuals with disabilities or large debts.”
Varga noted that his office only categorises victims based on national citizenship, but said that it is clear Roma are disproportionately affected.
The report recommends that Slovak authorities, “greatly increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims”.
2. Sep 2013 at 0:00 | Benjamin Cunningham