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Press Release on the Occasion of October 18 – European Anti Trafficking Day

On the occasion of October 18 – European Anti Trafficking Day, ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action, as an NGO which has been providing direct assistance and support to trafficking victims for ten years, wishes to remind citizens of Serbia that although many activities have been carried out in the last few years, primarily aimed at public awareness raising and although it could be often heard that legal and institutional frameworks for victim assistance and protection have been significantly improved, a little has actually changed for trafficking victims in Serbia compared with several years ago.

For many years, ASTRA has been warning about problems in the reintegration and social inclusion of trafficking victims. Serbia did not have a shelter for urgent accommodation of victims for a long time, while specialized shelter for trafficked children still does not exist, although children take a substantial share among identified victims in the Republic of Serbia. The social protection system has broad competences in providing care for trafficked children, but it is also an important actor with regard to adult victims, too; still, it lacks capacities – both human and financial – to put these competences in operation. Also, a document that would define the procedures for work with trafficking victims, from the moment of identification until the end of reintegration, with indicators for identification of victims as its integral part has not been defined yet; this also applies to minimum standards in the process of the provision of assistance. For this reason, it is not possible to carry out a quality monitoring of work of different actors which provide direct assistance to trafficking victims.

Trafficking in human beings in Serbia is still seen solely in the context of sexual exploitation, neglecting all other forms. Although an increasing number of labor exploitation cases is registered every year, where our citizens are exploited in construction sites in foreign countries, support and assistance programs for them do not exit and the assessment of workers’ security when they return to Serbia is never done. Preventive activities aimed at reducing recruitment for labor exploitation are not carried out, while the National Employment Service and competent Ministry of Economy and Regional Development do not see a need to take more active part in anti-trafficking activities. Trade unions are also not involved in preventive activities aimed at stopping labor exploitation. Although the police as a rule collect many statements from workers and on that basis file criminal reports, the number of indictments for human trafficking for labor exploitation is negligible.

As far as the prosecution of perpetrators is concerned, trials are still too lengthy, exposing victims to secondary victimization and preventing them from leaving traumatic experience behind and regaining control over their lives. Namely, they are expected to appear in court sessions, face their exploiters over and over again and make a statement that would be vital evidence for the prosecution. In addition to the fact that their security is not ensured in a systemic way, victims are also exposed to humiliating and degrading treatment not only by defense counsel, but also by judges and prosecutors. Although human trafficking is treated as a form of organized crime everywhere in the world, for several years in Serbia no operative treatment has been initiated which the Prosecutor for Organized Crime would qualify as a human trafficking offence committed by an organized criminal group. The discovering of cases of organized criminal groups which sell and exploit our citizens in foreign countries is neglected, but the emphasis is on internal trafficking. Although this is highly profitable crime, until today no trafficker had to face permanent confiscation of criminal assets, while no victim won compensation through a final and enforceable judgment.

Efficient tackling of human trafficking is one of the conditions on Serbia’s path to EU membership. Although it is a strong incentive for building a mechanism that would help victims to successfully recover and return to society, it seems that many activities and measures are taken in order to “reach” certain standards only formally, without essential regard to the quality and efficiency of their implementation in practice. It also seems that EU membership and positive reports by foreign governments are in the focus of anti trafficking in Serbia, and not the wellbeing of persons who were exposed to the worst imaginable exploitation and torture for months and even year in the human trafficking chain. At the same time, professionals with excellent results in combating human trafficking – in prosecutor’s office, police, media – are faced with marginalization in their work places and even with charges pressed against them by suspected or convicted traffickers, in which situation they do not have any support from the state. Insufficient attention is paid to taking care about professionals and motivating them to stay, but persons without experience are appointed on key positions for providing support. Serbia still does not have a budget line for combating human trafficking, but it relies on ad hoc allocations and donations from international organizations, which in this way become the owners of anti-trafficking in Serbia.

Only by affirming committed professionals and creating a sustainable HR policy, by passing all necessary bylaws and by forming a budget line for victim assistance the government will show genuine will to efficiently combat trafficking in human beings.

ASTRA believes that the establishment of an independent and efficient mechanism for continuous data collection and analysis and for reporting on human trafficking, which exists in many European countries, would contribute to the enhancement of the national referral mechanism in Serbia. The institute of National Rapporteur as an independent body would enable qualitative and quantitative information on the spread of human trafficking and trends, as well as on criminal investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, the analyses of undertaken measures and prevention activities, the quality of identification and assistance and protection to victims. On that basis, National Rapporteur would be able to formulate recommendations to the government for the improvement of anti-trafficking policy and practice.

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