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EUROPE: Victims of Trafficking Need More than Words

Zoltán Dujisin

PALERMO, Italy, May 25 2009 (IPS) - A flawed political and economic order that has failed to create effective migration policies is behind the rise of trafficking in persons and the difficulties in tackling it effectively, leading campaigners say.

“It’s the same greed, the same lack of regulation, the same lack of government action that is causing forced labour and that caused the global financial crisis,” Roger Plant, head of the special action programme to combat forced labour at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) told an International Conference on Trafficking in Persons in Palermo, Italy.

The conference, organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) May 21-22 assessed progress made ten years after the United Nations adopted the Palermo Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its two protocols on trafficking and smuggling.

The protocols have been ratified by more than 100 countries, and have provided many valuable juridical instruments, but there is poor implementation and insufficient data collection by individual states, making monitoring by international organisations arduous.

“We have national legislations, ratification, shelters, national action plans, but any impact?” Richard Danzinger, head of the IOM’s counter-trafficking unit asked the audience. “We have no clear numbers, but estimates haven’t changed, and the definition of trafficking is so complex that it can be interpreted in many ways, depending on government policies or ideology.”

Hampering cooperation are also different legal cultures that have led to disagreement over key concepts of exploitation, trafficking or smuggling.

Danziger went so far as to question the relevance of distinguishing between victims of trafficking and migrants in general. “Just about any woman who came from North Africa to Europe has been abused in some way. Maybe she was not trafficked, but should that make a difference?” he asked.

Some claimed that the Palermo Protocols had helped. “Before the Protocols the ILO was only looking at the issue of forced labour imposed by states, while we know that 80 percent of forced labour is done by private interests,” Plant told the conference.

According to the ILO, 12.3 million people are in forced labour worldwide. The absence of a free employment relationship means yearly losses of 20 billion dollars for the victims.

Participants generally agreed that progress had not been spectacular, but there is a long way to go to find consensus on the most effective approach to tackling trafficking.

“You can’t solve these problems in one country, you have countries of origin, transit, and destination that should work together,” Peter Schatzer, IOM’s Director of the Regional Office for the Mediterranean told IPS.

“It is not always political will that is missing,” he said. “Problems with implementation are manifold; sometimes it is disorganisation, some time it is traffickers themselves adapting to legislation voted in various countries, sometimes it is also lack of in-depth international cooperation.”

Plant said that cooperation is required from more than just governments. “We need to have trade unions, governments and businesses working together to address forced labour,” he said. And that is something increasingly realistic as multinationals become “worried about forced labour entering their chain of production and causing them damage.”

Speaking to IPS, Plant said trade unions could play a role in combating forced labour. “If these workers could actually get protection from the trade unions in the destination country, this would be a very important way of averting the risk of forced labour,” he said.

Calls were also made to reform migration policy. “Organised crime did not invent trafficking. Traffickers occupy the space created by the countries’ policies,” John Davis, research fellow at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research told IPS.

“The reason we have trafficking is because people who have a migration desire can’t get a visa,” he said. “As we have created more and more obstacles, we create the need for a more complex criminality.”

Traffickers have exploited globalisation, taking advantage of easy mobility, communication technology and money transfers to create the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Many believe trafficking is the most lucrative form of organised crime after drug and arms trading, and survives because there are few cases of prosecution against traffickers, and because of occasional complicity of authorities.

“It’s not rare to find public order forces that are very much strained, underpaid, and therefore subject to corruption, as trafficking is very lucrative,” Schatzer told IPS.

Mariana Katzarova, adviser on trafficking at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, believes the best way to go is to focus on human rights. “Only well-protected victims can cooperate in the prosecution of traffickers,” she said.

But human rights can often be the last consideration of states that “identify the mass of migrant workers as the threat,” Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, judge at the European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) told participants.

One worrying signal comes from the EU itself, where assistance has only been provided to 3,000 victims since the Palermo protocols were born. “If this is the situation in the EU, where there are actually conditions to support victims, we have a deep problem at hand,” said Giammarinaro.

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