Monday, August 15, 2005

IOM commends progress in counter human-trafficking, wants increased prosecution

August 15, 2005 12:00am
Source: Turkish Daily News

Turkey has made significant progress in efforts to stop human trafficking over the past couple of years but the prosecution of traffickers still needs to be increased as the country takes steps in the direction of achieving a "model success" in dealing with one of the worst forms of crime, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"We must be able set an example to traffickers in order for them to understand that Turkey does not condone this form of crime," said Marielle Sander-Lindstrom, chief of mission of the IOM's Turkey office.

The revised Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which came into force on June 1, includes an article, Article 80, that calls for prison terms of eight to 12 years for traffickers but prosecutors have mostly tended to use other articles that regulate prostitution, sticking to an old habit that was sanctioned under the old TCK.

Sander-Lindstrom, in an interview with the Turkish Daily News, said the degree of familiarity with Article 80 among judges and prosecutors should increase.

"These [the article's provisions] were placed into Turkish law specifically for Turkey to be able to fight human trafficking, which is an international crime," she said. "Turkey is doing its part and prosecutors should support Turkey in this by applying the correct articles."

Turkey, a destination country for increasingly many women -- mostly from the former Soviet republics -- who have been trafficked primarily for sexual exploitation, introduced an action plan and launched a national task force two years ago to cope with this issue, which is widely seen as a modern-day form of slavery. The efforts were in response to a surge over the past few years in the number of persons trafficked into Turkey, mostly in parallel to improving living standards and job opportunities here.

The improving standards ensuing from European Union membership prospects presents a situation that is heavily exploited by human traffickers, who sometimes lure young women with promises of regular employment but which ultimately results in forced prostitution, debt and various forms of abuse including forced confinement, control of personal documents such as passports and threats. In 2004, authorities identified 266 victims of human trafficking across Turkey but officials say this is just the "tip of the iceberg." Thus far this year, the IOM has provided assistance to some 117 victims of trafficking, mostly from the former Soviet republics, identified throughout several provinces of Turkey.

The Geneva-based IOM, which Turkey joined in 2004, is a major ally of the Turkish government in counter-trafficking efforts.

In June, the IOM, in close coordination with the Turkish government, launched the first major multi-country prevention campaign to combat human trafficking across Turkey and main source countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries.

The $700,000 campaign, funded by the U.S. government, is meant to raise awareness, step up legal training for law enforcement and provide medical and other assistance to the victims of human trafficking. The IOM is also promoting Turkey's 157 hotline for the rescue of trafficked individuals both in Turkey and three main source countries of the victims, namely Ukraine, Romania and Moldova.

Travelers from source countries to Turkey are also warned of the dangers of trafficking through inserts put into their passports at ports of entry into Turkey, provided by Turkish embassies in the countries concerned.

Miracle of 157:

The fruits of the counter-trafficking efforts are not difficult to see. Last week, Turkish police rescued five Ukrainian women who were tortured with boiling oil and imprisoned in a basement by human traffickers in the southern province of Antalya after they contacted the 157 hotline and requested help.

Sander-Lindstrom said a total of 17 victims of human trafficking, including the five Ukrainians, have been rescued after calls to the 157 hotline over the past two months, since the three-digit line was launched. The rescued victims include nine Ukrainians, five Moldavians and one Romanian as well as two Turks. Eight others, who are yet to be described as victims although they have been identified as such because they still await payment from people they say employed them, remain as suspected trafficking victims.

In addition to rescue operations and a referral system where the 157 hotline system works with police and the gendarmerie to coordinate the rescue of the victims, authorities have also taken steps to provide shelter for the rescued victims, with preparations in their final phase to open a shelter in Ankara in addition to a 12-person capacity shelter already open in Istanbul. The IOM is planning to work with bar associations to provide free legal assistance to the victims.

"Turkey has for many years been the missing link in this region and it has now moved to fill this gap," said Sander-Lindstrom. "What remains is to expand the network of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] providing assistance in Turkey, and we also need to work with judges and prosecutors to put the perpetrators behind bars."

Turkish NGOs, which the IOM says could be extremely helpful in providing shelter and assistance that the victims would need, either know nothing about the human trafficking problem or are unwilling to address it because they think it is about prostitution, according to Sander-Lindstrom

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