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23rd Sep 2019

Sales of women and girls booms in Europe

Human trafficking is booming in Europe, the Hague-based Eurojust, the EU’s crime fighting unit, said on Thursday (26 April). But the number of cases brought against traffickers is grossly disproportionate to the number of reported victims.

“Something is wrong, not enough people are being brought to justice. One thing is sure is that it is a booming business,” said Michèle Coninsx, President-elect of Eurojust. Eurojust, which co-ordinates with national judicial authorities on serious-cross border crimes, is aiming to get member states to bring more cases to it.

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  • Trafficking of women and girls in Europe is booming, says Eurojust. (Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud/norden.org)

Despite the alarming numbers, Eurojust handled 74 registered cases in 2009, up from only 19 in 2004. Yet the United Nations estimates that globally, the traffic of human beings nets some €32 billion every year. In Europe, the overall profit numbers are vague but officials say the rise in trafficking is indisputably linked to the massive profit returns.

One indicator is the sharp increase of trafficking when Bulgaria and Romania joined the Union in 2007. Existing organised crime groups in Europe, some based in the Netherlands for instance, used the opportunity to lure poor and poverty-stricken girls from these countries with promises of work.

The Dutch national public prosecutor for trafficking in human beings says Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Nigeria are now the main source countries for the Netherlands. The majority of the Hungarians end up working as sex slaves and prostitutes. Others are exploited as labourers or domestic servants.

Up to 300 prostitutes work in Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. “These women are more or less victims,” said the prosecutor, explaining that some volunteer to work on the basis they can leave after a few months. When they try, they are forced to stay.

The women, who have come forward to him, claim they are then required to earn at least €1000 a night. At €50 a client, that means around 20 people in one evening.

The money is then sent to banks in Romania, Bulgaria or Nigeria. Tracing money through Nigeria’s fragmented banking system is notoriously difficult, making it even more unlikely authorities can locate and arrest the criminals at the source.

In another case, an organized crime group operating in France and Italy trafficked 100 Bulgarian women for sexual exploitation. Profits ranged to around 10 million over a four-year period. Authorities broke up the ring, but one suspect later continued his business using a fax and a telephone from inside his prison cell.

“We are talking about real people in Europe today that are being kept in slavery-like conditions. And we have a lot more EU victims being victimised in Europe,” said Myria Vassiliadou, the EU’s anti-trafficking coordinator. “Human trafficking is gender in nature and should be prosecuted as such,” she added.

A 2010 opinion by the European Commission expert group on human trafficking found that member states are not investigating these types of cases because other crimes are easier, less expensive and more practical to prosecute.

The same year, not a single member state provided statistics on the number of cases and prosecutions involving human trafficking, says Eurojust. Consequently, the unit is pushing member states to oblige them to report and better monitor human trafficking.

“The obligation already exists for terrorism, and we want that to apply it to human trafficking as well,” James Thuy, Eurojust spokesperson told EUobserver.

Eurojust, the CoE and the Commission are proposing a renewed strategy against human trafficking that aims to detect, freeze and confiscate criminal assets.

Some 70 national judicial and law enforcement authorities fighting human trafficking across the EU, are at the Eurojust office on Thursday and Friday to help define such a strategy.

“People traffic because first they don’t give a damn about human beings and second because of the money,” said Nicolas Le Coz, President of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) at the Council of Europe.

Meanwhile, member states have until 6 April 2013 to transpose the Commission’s 2011 directive on trafficking. Eurostat also plans on releasing a publication on human trafficking in all member states sometime in October.

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