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RUSSIA: Where Migration Means Trafficking

Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Apr 26 2008 (IPS) - New efforts have been launched to curb human trafficking across Russia and the ex-Soviet republics.

The Moscow office of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) is implementing a programme ‘Prevention of Human Trafficking’ jointly financed by the European Commission, the U.S. State Department and the Swiss government.

Aurelius Gutauskas, a Lithuanian legal expert together with experts from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the IOM are adapting features of counter-trafficking legislation in the European Union to bridge gaps in Russian law.

“The project aims at complementing the efforts of the authorities and the civil society, and to enhance prosecution and the criminalisation of trafficking,” Alberto Andreani, programme coordinator for prevention of human trafficking at the Moscow IOM office told IPS.

At their annual meeting in Moscow last November, members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose organisation of ex-Soviet republics (excluding the Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) signed an anti-trafficking cooperation programme to last until 2010.

But Elena Govorina from the Angel Coalition, a Moscow-based non-profit organisation that tracks human trafficking in Russia and the region, says government action is still not enough to fight the fast growing problem. And there have been few attempts to study the social conditions that give rise to human trafficking, she said.

“There is a wide array of factors that make post-Soviet states a breeding ground for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We think that some serious governmental structure should raise this issue. But little can be done without administrative instruction from a government agency,” Govorina told IPS.

Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the Federal Migration Service in Moscow, told a meeting of senior officials from migration agencies and interior ministries in the Commonwealth of Independent States that according to United Nations estimates, 20 million migrants pass through the region every year.

“Russia serves as a main transit country from Asia to the European Union, and it (Russia) has a significant amount of internal trafficking from smaller towns and villages to regional city centres, both for labour and sexual exploitation,” Lauren McCarthy from the University of Wisconsin who has researched human trafficking in Russia and the ex-Soviet republics for three years, told IPS.

“Traffickers try to keep their business below the radar of law enforcement. Through physical and psychological coercion, they try to ensure that their victims do not attempt to escape, and if they do, that they do not come forward to law enforcement. This makes it very difficult to establish numbers of how many trafficking victims there are in any country at any one time,” she said.

The situation differs across the post-Soviet states, she said. Some of the richer countries like Russia and Kazakhstan tend to be attractive destinations for people looking to migrate for employment. And many people look to leave poorer countries like Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The wish to migrate is then exploited by traffickers. Moldova and Ukraine have had particularly serious problems with the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation.

In 2005, the ILO estimated that about 2.4 million men, women and children are trafficked worldwide, of which at least 200,000 are trafficked to and within transition countries (including the CIS countries). ILO researchers believe that this is a conservative estimate.

According to qualitative research in CIS countries, trafficking for forced labour (other than forced prostitution) is the main form of trafficking in the region, in particular central Asia.

Migrant workers are most exploited in construction, agriculture, trade and informal economic activities. Law enforcement responses, however, tend to focus on sex trafficking which often involves young women trafficked to western Europe, the Middle East and Russia.

Many countries in the region have adopted national action plans against human trafficking, Beate Andrees, spokesman for the ILO special action programme to combat forced labour told IPS by email. Ukraine, for example, has already adopted the third action plan. The current version focuses on prevention and reintegration of victims through labour market measures. Georgia and Ukraine have allocated significant funds for implementation of such action plans.

But in many countries effective action has not been taken due to lack of state funding, and of coordination among different states. To address this, the ILO has begun a new project in conjunction with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to develop regional communities to prevent human trafficking. The programme covers Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.

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