Christina’s ‘Balkan Odyssey,’ and less fortunate endings

Christina, 20, who speaks English and is quickly learning Greek, works in a store in Thessaloniki. Always smiling, she is not worried about making a lot of money. She just wants to forget. Thessaloniki’s anti-trafficking police characterize what Christina went through as a «Balkan Odyssey in the hands of ruthless slave-traders.» From her home in Romania, Christina went to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, looking for a better future, only to be kidnapped off the street and smuggled into Greece, where she was locked in a house in Dendropotamo, Thessaloniki. One of her kidnappers told her that there was only one thing to do if she did not want to be killed and that was to have sex with men, whenever and as often as they wanted. One day, when they put her in a car to take her off somewhere else, she grabbed her chance in a busy street in western Thessaloniki, jumped out of the car and rushed into a nearby store, calling for help. She was lucky, as the storekeeper called police, who the day before had found apartments used by the traffickers, who had decided to drive around until the raids were over. Christina was fortunate enough to escape before being exploited like thousands of other girls from the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. The police officers who came to her rescue clubbed together to buy her clothes and other essentials. Now, on the basis of provisions in law 3064/02 that came into force last August, she is trying to get back on her feet in that corner of the world where fate has landed her. A different story «Vik» has quite a different story to tell. She and two friends arrived by air from Russia on a one-month visa, supposedly for legitimate work. At the airport they were picked up by human traffickers who took away their passports and told them that they would have to sell themselves in order to buy their freedom. Vik was eventually arrested and tried. She would not speak to the authorities and was sentenced to a few days’ imprisonment pending deportation. She then reconsidered, and told the police everything. This is the greatest problem faced by the offices of the anti-trafficking squad: to find a way to get these unfortunate women to talk. «They are victims of brutal exploitation. They cannot go home, they are afraid of the gangs and trust no one,» said one official. Establishing the Greek police’s anti-trafficking squad, first in Thessaloniki and then in Athens, is considered to be a major step toward wiping out the trade in human beings and their sexual exploitation, as the squad’s sole purpose is to fight the trade. The Thessaloniki bureau, set up last November, is the first of its kind in Greece. Its purpose, according to officer Eleftherios Douroudous, is to treat every woman who has fallen victim to the racket as a separate case. Douroudous takes over a case once it has been discovered, investigating each one in depth, and also helps the women start over, whether by returning to their homes or staying in Greece. In the short time since it was set up, the service has handled over 20 cases. Every day, about 20 classifieds are placed in the Thessaloniki press. Two years ago, there were about 200, indicating that the police have made some progress in their fight against these crimes.