Europe ‘must help victims of trafficking’

GENEVA – Western European nations must better protect victims of trafficking if they want to break the criminal gangs that prey on women and children from the Balkans and force them into prostitution or begging, a UN-sponsored report said yesterday. Anti-trafficking efforts are dominated by controlling migration and prostitution – but this approach alone is wrong, the joint study by UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said. Although Western European governments are backing efforts to fight traffickers in the Balkans, they are doing too little to encourage victims who make it to Western Europe to turn against the gangsters, according to the 337-page study. «Western European countries must admit that they have not so far been successful in the fight against human trafficking. They address it in a very narrow way,» said Helga Konrad, the OSCE’s anti-trafficking chief. «This is not helpful.» Solid figures for the number of people trafficked from Balkan nations are hard to come by, Konrad told reporters. But experts believe the total number of trafficked individuals in Western Europe is 100,000, she said. But only around 10,000 victims have asked authorities for help in recent years. Most are young women and children taken by force or drawn to the gangs because of a misplaced belief that they will lead to a better life in the West. Madeline Rees, head of the UN human rights office in Bosnia, said victims often are reluctant to come forward because they fear they will be deported, and will again face the grinding poverty and abuse they fled in the first place. Among Western European countries, only Italy has a program of witness protection, allowing victims to stay in the country if they are prepared to help authorities tackle the trafficking gangs. «If the rest of Europe followed that model, then we would get somewhere,» Rees said.

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