Addressing trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation through international cooperation

Addressing trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation through international cooperation

Regional Expert Group Meeting (RGEM): “Addressing trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation through international cooperation” was held online on June 9 and 10, 2021. The meeting was organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France. The meeting was attended by the National Anti-Trafficking Coordination Office, Center for the Protection of Trafficking Victims, Interpol, Europol, Eurojust, Frontex, State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) BiH, LEFÖ-IBF, La Strada Moldova, public prosecutors from Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Switzerland, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), OCRTEH, representatives of anti-trafficking units from United Kingdom, North Macedonia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova and Romania, among whom was also organization Atina.

Atina’s representative, Marija Pantelić programme coordinator, was invited to speak of the national practice in combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, through international cooperation in Serbia. On that occasion, she emphasized that it is necessary to further work on the improvement and adjustment of the national practice in order to protect the victims of human trafficking in the most comprehensive manner. “When it comes to cooperation concerning the protection of foreign nationals identified in the Republic of Serbia, it is necessary to better define the roles in coordination of protection. The current solution refers to the cooperation of national anti-trafficking coordinators or ministries in individual countries. However, not all countries regulate the function of coordinator, or the competencies within the ministries in the same manner, and this communication between the institutions often takes a lot of time, while such situations require us to act quickly,” said Marija Pantelić.

“What we in the organization Atina consider especially important in the protection and exchange of information is direct networking of civil society organizations that provide support in both countries, for the purpose of exchanging information on the wellbeing of a person, achieved goals, strengths and risks they are/were exposed to. This is of particular importance as civil society organizations can respond in a much more flexible way and much faster, always bearing in mind the confidentiality of data and the right to privacy of the victim. In Atina’s experience, when it comes to return of the victim to Serbia from abroad, and when contact was made directly with the organization that provided support, there was a concrete exchange of information, which is highly important in work, as well as the cases when victims return voluntarily to their country of origin from Serbia (the best example of cooperation is between the organizations Atina and the Albanian organization Vatra, especially as these two organizations have long-lasting strategic partnership). Of course, before the exchange of information happens, it is important for the victim to stay in touch with persons with whom they have established a relationship of trust (case managers, psychologists, social workers), so that this relationship actually acts as an additional strength in a new life situation, but also to reduce the chance of re-trafficking. That is why we are using this occasion to emphasize the importance of the actions of civil society organizations and their networking. One of the brightest examples of such international cooperation is the International Social Service (ISS); Atina is a member of this network which is particularly important when it comes to domestic citizens who are abroad. It is also important to mention that this cooperation mechanism exists since 1924, and includes over 120 member countries.”

When it comes to prevention, Atina’s stance is that it is crucial to create campaigns that target persons at risk in the country of origin, which relate to potential risks when going abroad. During 2020, Atina closely dealt with the topic of labor exploitation, with the support of Council of Europe, where professionals from the area of employment and labor inspectors clearly pointed out limited possibilities of monitoring persons and checking risks when it comes to foreign countries, so in that sense international partnerships should be further strengthened on various levels.

“We feel an obligation today to emphasize that in the last few years there has been a trend of a growing number of victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, but also of gender-based violence, who are returning to Serbia under readmission agreements,” stated colleague Marija Pantelić, noting that “In fact, the mechanism of their return is insufficiently regulated. Despite the fact that the Standard Operating Procedures in Serbia regulate the process of return of the victims, this conduct is not clear enough to the international organizations in charge of the procedure, nor to partners abroad, or domestic actors. So, there is an increasing number of cases of return of domestic citizens who have been identified as victims of human trafficking abroad, without enough support provided to them in the country of exploitation, in a sense that the case has not been reported to relevant authorities, or that all existing options to regulate their status have not been exhausted. Of particular concern is the fact that these are more and more often girls who had never been in Serbia before, and were born abroad. It is also important for Atina to continue with reflection on why, as we are simultaneously facing current migrations that have been present in Serbia since 2015, we notice a huge imbalance between the number of suspected trafficking cases and identified victims of trafficking, which is not grounded in practice, but mainly explained by lack of capacity and resources to deal with this issue. To conclude, recommendations for improving cooperation and practice in the international context certainly lie in the development and improvement of services in the Republic of Serbia, because that is the only way to provide persons returning to Serbia, or who found themselves in Serbia, with adequate protection,” said Marija Pantelić, and thanked all the participants for their attention.