From Mon Feb 12 06:57:21 2001
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 23:17:41 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS: EU Vows to Crack Down on Modern Day ‘Slave Trade’
Article: 114920
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

EU Vows to Crack Down on Modern Day ‘Slave Trade’

By Brian Kenety, IPS, 9 February 2001

STOCKHOLM, Feb 9 (IPS)—At this very moment as I open the press conference—somewhere in Europe—a 15 to 16-year-old girl is lying in an undercover brothel waiting for the next man, the Swedish Justice Minister said Friday.

Speaking at the close of an informal two-day meeting of European Union (EU) justice and home affairs ministers, Thomas Bodstrom, said that trafficking in human beings, in particular of women and girls for sexual and economic exploitation, amounted to a modern-day slave trade.

Sweden, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, is seeking a common strategy to stem the tide of human beings smuggling, which ministers here have called the fastest-growing sector of criminal activity in Europe.

In many parts of the world possibilities for legal migration have decreased whilst demand for foreign labour has remained constant. This, together with poverty, lack of opportunities, political and social violence in the countries of origin, may force potential migrants to turn to criminal networks.

As a consequence, new trafficking routes are regularly established and the market for fraudulent travel documents, clandestine transportation and border crossing has developed worldwide.

Some 500,000 women and girls enter the EU every year as illegal immigrants. Some estimates put the number of people brought into the EU against their will who become victims of the sex trade or are forced to work in slave-like conditions in textile sweatshops at several hundred thousand.

Many are brought in for prostitution by well-organised criminal gangs or to work under inhuman conditions. By some estimates the trade in illegal immigrants is worth more than 30 billion dollars a year and has become a lucrative market for organised crime syndicates.

There is a slave trade going on today in our own countries and in countries in our vicinity. We cannot shut our eyes to the reality. This applies in particular to us Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs, said Bodstrom.

He calls on his fellow ministers to both harmonise legislative measures and cross-border police co-operation and to earmark more funding for projects combating the trafficking of women and girls.

In concrete terms this means finding common definitions and fairly similar sanctions so that those who control trafficking in humans cannot find ‘free zones’ with unclear legislation, he said.

Although no formal decisions were taken in Stockholm this week, ministers agreed Friday on the need to rapidly negotiate improved legislation against trafficking in human beings, said Bodstrom.

In the lead-up to this week's meeting, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Italian counterpart, Giuliano Amato, announced a package of measures to disrupt human beings smuggling across the Western Balkans, through which 60 per cent of trafficked persons coming to the EU pass, British Home Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday.

As of Thursday, ten countries had agreed to take part in a meeting in London to discuss the joint UK-Italian measures, which include a proposal to establish EU teams of police and immigration officers that would be based in the Western Balkans.

I hope that we can establish links between (these personnel) and (the European police force) Europol, to form a network of EU immigration officers and intelligence, said Straw Thursday.

There is already strong co-operation between national and immigration and police services throughout Europe. But there are over 120 separate police services in Europe. It makes sense to find better ways of co-operating, said Straw.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino said that the proposals put forward by the European Commission, which were the starting point for this week's discussions, will be an important step towards eradicating from Europe the unscrupulous practices of trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of children.

Vitorino said Friday there could be no safe haven for traffickers in any European country and that therefore enhanced police co-operation was crucial. Equally important, he said, was that appropriate facilities be made available for the victims of trafficking—the EU executive Commission would soon draft a communication calling for women forced into prostitution to be granted temporary residence permits.

The Commission was looking at greater funding for non- governmental organisations (NGOs) working in this area in order to raise awareness of the problem.

Bodstrom noted that EU candidate countries, from where the majority of trafficked women and girls enter the Union, would be invited to discuss measures to combat trafficking in human beings at the formal meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in March.

Migrant trafficking and smuggling has become a global business generating huge profits for traffickers and organised crime syndicates. A recent study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that at any one time there are an estimated 15 to 30 million irregular migrants worldwide.

Because of their clandestine nature, irregular migration and trafficking are likely to remain significantly underreported crimes, says the IOM. Reliable statistics are kept on apprehensions of unauthorised migrants at borders and on arrests of traffickers, amongst other things, but these figures account for a small fraction of the overall problem.

Trafficking exposes migrants to exploitation and violation of their fundamental human rights. Trafficked migrants are often dependent on their agents and employers, and are therefore extremely vulnerable, says the IOM. Because they have to pay back a debt to traffickers, migrants frequently find themselves confined to sweatshops, factories, or are forced into prostitution or begging, often controlled by criminal networks.

In addition, migrants who lack valid travel documents are primarily regarded as irregular migrants, and are therefore subject to deportation in many countries. Because of their irregular status, they do not have access to legal assistance and medical care.