NEWS

Greece promises to fight against ‘modern slavery’

Greece promised yesterday to make efforts to fight human trafficking and forced prostitution a priority when it takes over the European Union presidency on January 1. «We need (cooperation) both at the national level and at the international level to eradicate this modern form of slavery,» Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said. Greece, with rugged Balkan borders and dozens of islands facing Turkey, is a major transit point for illegal immigrants and strongly supports EU proposals to strengthen border patrols and share intelligence. The EU estimates that about 120,000 women and children are brought into the 15-nation EU every year to be used in the sex trade or as virtual slave labor in sweatshops hidden across Europe. Alexandros Mallias, a senior Greek foreign ministry official dealing with Southeastern Europe, said Athens would work more closely with other Balkan countries to «strike the phenomenon at its root.» The officials made the remarks at a conference in Athens on human trafficking. Mallias said Greece hoped to use existing mechanisms to increase regional cooperation, including the Balkan Stability Pact, an initiative started by Western countries in 1999 to boost investment in the Balkans. A report from the US State Department earlier this year said Greece did not «fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.» In response, Parliament in October passed a law making imposing heavy prison sentences for human trafficking, child pornography and illegal organ trafficking. As many as 20,000 women currently living in Greece were forced into prostitution, Greek estimates say. «It is a common observation that the exploitation of human beings… has become a serious problem,» Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos said. «It is so vast that it has to be faced right now.» Grigoris Lazos, a member of a government advisory committee on illegal human trafficking, urged authorities to step up training programs to deal with victims of forced prostitution. «(Authorities) need to… distinguish between the victims and other categories of women,» he said. «I fear that victims are dealt with in a soulless, bureaucratic way.»