Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tackling the sordid trade in EU sex slaves

October 31, 2005 12:00am
Source: Irish Independent

PERHAPS the single most frightening fact about human trafficking and illegal immigration is that nobody knows the precise scale of the problem.

Given the criminal nature of the organised gangs who try and profit through humans, it's only when police launch raids or people die, that any figures come to light.

The kind of rough guesstimates available are incredible - suggesting that over half a million people every year are trafficked into Europe. Another half a million are moved around the world.

The majority are women or girls, who will be sold onto brothels for sexual exploitation, claims UN research.

A separate report by the International Organisation for Migration warns that trafficking is now at alarming levels, especially from South-East Europe.

It warns that police are finding it even harder to track down the routes and even the methods, like arranged marriages and postal brides, which are used to hide the true intent.

Every single incident has its own sad story. In Ireland, the most chilling memory remains the dreadful plight of the trafficked Turkish people who died inside a sealed container, which was discovered in Co Wexford nearly five years ago.

It's also one of the few incidents which resulted in convictions, on this occasion in a Belgian courtroom based on evidence largely compiled by the Gardai. The case unravelled the trail across Europe of the Kosovar Albanian gang, which smuggled the group all the way across the continent. Instead of a short trip over the Channel to Dover, the container full of furniture was redirected to Rosslare.

Most of those inside were dead by the time the load was checked 48 hours later. In this case, the unfortunate people who died are believed to have paid to be taken to a better life in Northern Europe. Many times, women are duped into thinking they're going to work as a child minder before finding they're papers taken from them and given no choice but to work as prostitutes, often in fear of their lives.

In Birmingham earlier this month, police raided a brothel and freed 19 women. They were moved every day between the brothel and another house, where they were literally locked inside. This particular incident is considered to be the tip of the iceberg in the UK, with similar situations in countries like Germany and France.

The most dramatic recent stories have come from the Spanish enclaves in Northern Africa, where people have been shot as they tried to climb over fences. In some cases, people had spent up to three years travelling from countries like Ghana, just to get this far.

Obviously Ireland and the EU need a mixture of policies to respond to these various problems. As the recent demand to legalise prostitution suggests, there are people who feel that it could have a positive effect. Those in favour of legalisation claim it would separate sexual workers from their current links to organised criminals and pimps. But opponents warn it could do the opposite, merely encouraging the sex trade to develop even more.

Instead of legitimising prostitution, critics like Mary McPhail of the European Women's Lobby challenge men to change their behaviour and to recognise prostitution is fundamentally a form of exploitation against women. The latest EU plans to spend 400m to fund a major improvement in border controls should also make it harder for many illegals to get inside Europe. Obviously, this doesn't tackle the underlying cause of why so many people will risk their lives just to end up at the bottom of European society in the worst jobs.

One strand of the solution will be to boost the economies of many African countries to create jobs and help develop their societies. Trade could be up to eight times more effective than aid, claims Oxfam. Boosting trade with developing countries was one of the key reasons, raised by the Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson yesterday to justify major reductions in European farm tariffs in his bid to get agreement at the upcoming World Trade Organisation meeting.

In the globalised world we live in, farmers could yet end up paying part of the price to halt the flow of people into 'Fortress Europe', as new jobs are created in the developing world, to discourage many from travelling northwards.