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Since the beginning of the year, 41 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Serbia. Compared to the number of officially confirmed victims over the past year (39 persons), this figure indicates a significant increase. It should be noted that the number of officially identified victims of human trafficking in Serbia from 2013 to 2019 has varied between 39 and 125 annually. The fight against human trafficking is further aggravated due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and human trafficking is even more concealed from the public eye. Traffickers are shifting some of their activities to the internet, and the economic crisis is making potential victims even more vulnerable. ASTRA’s SOS line has recorded 77% increase in calls since the beginning of the pandemic, while ASTRA alone has identified 24 victims of human trafficking since the beginning of the year.

The experts around the world, including those in the Balkans and in Serbia, indicate the “grey number”, i.e. the assumption that the number of victims of human trafficking in this region is up to 10 times higher. Across Europe, the number of identified victims of trafficking increased by 50% between 2015 and 2018. This fact raises the question of what the real situation in Serbia is. How much are all of us, actors in the field of combating human trafficking, and ordinary citizens aware of the scale of this problem, as well as what is the reason for non-recognition?

That is why ASTRA, within the project “A Space for Place to Fight Human Trafficking”, with the support of the European Union, is launching a campaign aimed at raising public awareness about the problem of human trafficking, its forms and representation: DON’T LOOK AWAY – Human Trafficking is not a Parallel Existence: It is a Harsh Reality.

The aim of the campaign is to point out to one of the biggest illusions related to human trafficking – that it happens to someone else and somewhere else, as well as to increase general awareness of the most common forms of human trafficking in our country.

After two decades of work, over 44,000 calls to the ASTRA SOS line, and over 540 identified and assisted victims, ASTRA wishes to remind and warn that human trafficking is a crime that can happen to anyone and that victims come from all social groups. The nationality, gender or level of education are not crucial; nor are the traffickers criminals recognizable at first glance. On the contrary, they are often acquaintances, potential or fake employers, relatives and/or partners of the victims. They are the ones the victim knows and is ready to trust, and the ones who have decided to take advantage of the victim’s vulnerability and to drag them into the trafficking chain.

What makes someone vulnerable? Poverty, the economic crisis, and exposure to violence, most often domestic or partner, contribute greatly to the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking. Over 75% of victims had previously been exposed to some form of violence. While fleeing from one trap, they fall into a new one. The most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, whose victims are mostly girls and women (about 80%). There are more and more minor victims, and the age limit is lower and lower- it is 12-13 years of age. Global and regional economic migrations and crises also contribute to the increase in the number of victims of labour exploitation, most often men.

In order to solve the problem of human trafficking as successfully as possible, we must first see it, recognize it in our environment and inform potentially vulnerable people about possible forms of protection.  

Therefore, DON’T LOOK AWAY – call +381 11 785 0000 or 0800 101 201 (free of charge calls from Serbia) to report human trafficking or learn about the ways to protect and prevent it. All lines are available 24 hours 7 days a week. Calls are free of charge, anonymous and can save someone’s life.

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