Associated Press
3 June 2003

Up to 170,000 people, mostly women and young girls, are trafficked in southeast Europe each year
by Alison Mutler

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Human trafficking, mostly involving women and young girls forced into prostitution, is increasing in southeastern Europe, with up to 170,000 people a year becoming victims, a European official monitoring the situation said Tuesday.

To combat the problem, governments in the region are being urged to grant temporary residence permits to those seeking to break free from their situation, said Helga Konrad, coordinator for trafficking of human beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In these shelters located in area countries, trafficking victims are supposed to get refuge and psychological counseling. However, officials call for more concrete steps to help those in distress.

"There is progress at the level of making plans ... but still not much action," said Barbara Limanoswka, a consultant on trafficking for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

The OSCE, Europe's top security body, organized a meeting starting Tuesday, drawing officials from Balkan countries and international organizations to discuss ways to combat human trafficking and increase cooperation between governments facing the problem.

"Traffickers operate ... with impunity, generating billions of dollars, while victims of trafficking are most often treated as criminals and illegal migrants. They face deportation to their home country," and 50 percent fall into the hands of traffickers again, according to estimates, said a press statement released before the meeting.

OSCE monitors say of the trafficking victims, women and girls from 13-18 are forced into prostitution. They are often confined against their will, and most of their earnings are taken away. They are also frequently prevented from contacting their families, and their passports are confiscated.

"'Women are sold like animals. Their teeth and bodies are inspected," said Konrad. "A woman can be sold for dlrs 1,250 and then sold for dlrs 350 to dlrs 450 an hour," she explained.

Ninety percent of the sex trade in the region involves women who have been trafficked.

Men are mainly forced into "bondage labor," in small factories or sweat shops. Children are used for begging, the monitors said.

Moldova, Romania and Ukraine are the main European countries where people are trafficked due to poverty and ignorance. Victims also come from Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

Victims are trafficked to European Union countries or Bosnia and Kosovo where there are large numbers of people working for the United Nations and other international organizations.

In Bosnia, there are up to 900 brothels, said Konrad.

Konrad said that between 120,000 and 170,000 people are being trafficked a year in the Balkans and elsewhere in southeast Europe. Many of them are women working in the sex trade.

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