Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Rights group warns governments on people-trafficking victims

LONDON — The increasingly tough policies introduced by countries trying to crack down on illegal immigrants are worsening the fate of people-trafficking victims by targeting them as well, a human rights group said Monday.

Anti-Slavery International issued a report calling on governments in 10 countries, including Britain and the United States, to improve the way they treat adults who have been trafficked.

Elaine Pearson, the author of "Human Traffic, Human Rights: Redefining Victim Protection" said that many countries were falling well short of providing victims with the required support by putting them in the same category as other illegal immigrants.

"What we are saying is that you shouldn't be deporting or removing people who are trafficked," Pearson said.

"You should give them a stay of deportation of three months to let them recover from their situation, with a temporary work and residence permit provided to all victims unconditionally — not dependent on whether they cooperate with authorities or not," she added.

More than 700,000 people are trafficked worldwide each year. They are forced into leaving their home countries through violence, deception or coercion — their families are often threatened — for the purpose of forced labor or servitude. Some are smuggled into another country illegally while others may have a legal contract but are essentially slaves to their new employers.

Of the 10 countries surveyed in the report, only four — the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy — had specific anti-trafficking laws. Laws currently being considered by the British Parliament would ban trafficking for prostitution but not for other purposes.

The United States, Belgium and the Netherlands provide assistance to victims and allow them to stay for three months, but only if they agree to testify against their traffickers.

Pearson said that tying support to a willingness to testify came dangerously close to breaching international human rights conventions.

"It's quite often the case that they select people according to how useful their testimony is going to be, which can be difficult for people whose traffickers have skipped the country or are in the country of origin," Pearson said.

Italy was the only country of the 10 covered in the survey which did not make testifying essential for assistance and Pearson said the prosecution of traffickers had increased there since the legislation was introduced in 1999.

"What they have found in Italy is that after six months, women who have been given shelter and spoken to others in a similar situation have been more likely to testify against their trafficker," she said.

But even in Italy, one woman who was trafficked from Albania was immediately deported when discovered in a brothel because none of the authorities made any inquiries about her situation or informed her of her right to stay for three months — a problem Pearson said was common to all countries.

"She was picked in a brothel raid as an illegal immigrant because she had traveled under a false passport so she was removed back to Albania," Pearson said.

"Within a few days of being back in Albania, the traffickers started contacting her family asking for the money owed, so within a month (she) was trafficked back to Italy by the same trafficker," she said.

Pearson said the retargeting of victims needed to be tackled in their countries of origin, which include Colombia and Nigeria.

"Trafficking is at the core of exploitation of a person and not all people who are trafficked are illegal immigrants," he said. "Many of our cases involved people who enter the countries legally but they are still being held against their will. They need to know what they are getting into."

The other countries covered by the report were Poland, Thailand, and Ukraine.

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Created: November 14, 2002
Last modified: November 15, 2002
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