Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Egypt "rife" with human trafficking according to UN

Cairo - A UN expert called on Wednesday for Egypt to take more action to combat human trafficking, laying out a list of social ills running from child labour to sexual exploitation.

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, was speaking as she wrapped up a 10-day visit to the country and talks with government officials and representatives of civil society.

According to a statement, she "identified common forms of trafficking in persons in Egypt to include trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation of under-aged girls through 'seasonal/temporary' marriage, child labour, domestic servitude, other forms of sexual exploitation and prostitution".

"There is a growing trend of sexual and economic exploitation of young Egyptian girls by their families and brokers... These types of marriage sometimes provide a smokescreen for providing sexual services to foreign men."

Ngozi Ezeilo said there were "also indications that trafficking for forced marriages, forced labour, transplantation of human organs and body tissues may be much more than current estimates".

She also said that while Egypt has been described as a transit country, "it might also be a source and a destination".

Street children

"The incidence of internal trafficking is much higher than transnational trafficking and the prevalence of street children increases their vulnerability to child trafficking," she said.

Ngozi Ezeilo said the problem is not well-understood, and called on Egypt to "provide comprehensive training programmes to enhance knowledge and awareness of human trafficking" and to tackle "root causes of trafficking such as poverty, unemployment, education, gender discrimination".

A parliamentary source said Egypt should soon pass a law criminalising human trafficking.

In February, a law was adopted regulating organ transplants and was aimed primarily at combating trafficking.

Every year, hundreds of poor Egyptians sell their kidneys, the World Health Organisation has said, making the country a focal point for trafficking.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Child trafficking ring busted in Romania

The leaders of a child-trafficking operation that put hundreds of beggars on the streets of Britain were targeted in a series of raids today in a remote Romanian town where opulent mansions have sprung up since the country joined the European Union.

Roma children aged from 7 to 15 were bought or taken, possibly by force, from their parents in rural Romania and trained to beg and steal, making millions of pounds a year in Britain for their gangmasters at the height of the scam, police believe.

The alleged child-trafficking ring based in Tandarei, in southern Romania, was said to be responsible for sending at least 168 children to London, from where they would also travel to other towns and cities.

Gangmasters would take care of the children’s travel documents and accommodation in Britain, where they would often sleep in cramped conditions and be forced to hand over the money they obtained.

The dawn raids were part of a wider crackdown on traffickers active in Britain, Italy and Spain since Romania became a member of the EU in 2007.

Police who broke up a gang operating in Milan estimated that Romanian children were making €12,000 (£10,500) a month each on the streets and through the theft of credit cards and mobile phones.

“The network was recruiting children and forcing them to beg and commit petty thefts in Great Britain,” said a police official in Bucharest.

“They were taken from their families in Tandarei and they were forced into shoplifting and pickpocketing. We will have to see if the children were given willingly by their parents for the exchange of money or if they were taken by force.”

Some of the children are understood to be in care in Britain while others have been sent back to Romania. Police sources say that some families were prepared to give up their children for as little as €200 each.

After a year of planning at least 17 people were arrested after the raids on 33 homes in Tandarei by a small army of organised crime investigators, assisted by 26 Metropolitan Police officers and two observers from Interpol. The identities or roles of those held was not disclosed.

Firearms, jewellery, luxury cars and large sums of money were found at the homes of suspects, according to local media, which said that 320 Romanian officers were involved in the operation.

Tandarei, with its population of 12,000 people, 150km east of Bucharest, has undergone a seemingly miraculous economic boom in the past few years.

A town previously known for grim blocks of flats and traditional single-story stone buildings now has about 50 luxury homes and more and more BMWs and Audis are seen on the streets.

Asked last autumn about the newfound wealth of some residents, Vasile Sava, the mayor, said: “How can I know where they get the money from? Nobody is telling us how they made the money abroad, legally or illegally.”

Tandarei was identified as the home town of 15 children found living in three homes in Manchester last November who had been forced to carry out cashpoint distraction thefts.

Scotland Yard teamed up with Romanian police in a £1 million investigation funded by the EU to track down the criminals behind people-trafficking. They would not confirm if yesterday’s arrests were linked to the Manchester operation.

“Of course, it is not all Romanians who are here who are causing this problem,” said a British police spokesman. “The aim is to bring people to justice for human trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable members of the Roma community.

“We will be seeking to disrupt organised crime networks in any way, prosecuting key individuals here and in Romania.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Flight attendants being trained to identify trafficking

By Elizabeth Lee

Flight attendants at a large U.S. airline are training other flight attendants to recognize signs of human trafficking on international and domestic flights. The flight attendant leading the program says it's possible to catch traffickers in the act, saving the lives of women and children trapped in the net.

For a moment in time, strangers from around the world come together as travelers.

It's also a moment when American Airlines flight attendant Sandra Fiorini can save a life. "We had an 18-year-old boy and he had a brand new day-old baby, umbilical cord everything was still there, day-old baby. He's going on a six hour flight, no wife. He has two diapers stuck in his pockets and one bottle," she describes.

Fiorini sees scenrios like that on a regular basis when she is on one of her international flights. She says after 39 years on the job, it's not difficult to recognize a suspected case of human trafficking. "Most of us are parents. When you see an instance that's not right and a red flag is raised, especially when there is children involved, you're more in tune with what's happening," she said.

Fiorini had tried to report suspicious activity to the police but they never responded. Two years ago, it all changed when Fiorini met Deborah Sigmund, founder of the organization Innocents At Risk.

"It's enslavement. We're talking about modern day slavery," Sigmund said.

Innocents At Risk provided Fiorini with brochures detailing the signs of human trafficking. There's also a phone number to report a suspected case.

"Before you couldn't call anyone," Fiorini said. "The local authorities would not respond to you. So now when you do call this hotline number, someone does respond."

Law enforcement will be waiting at the gate if a flight attendant reports something suspicious. Innocents At Risk created a video showing why it's important for law enforcement to respond. The organization says women, girls and even boys are being sold into sexual slavery.

"This is happening everywhere in the world, every country in the world," Sigmund said. "And it's happening here in the United States. Its a multi-billion dollar industry."

Meanwhile, Fiorini educates flight attendants around the world, using brochures and bracelets that contain the human trafficking hotline number. "I show my brochure, I tell them what I'm doing, and then I ask them to put the hotline number in the cell phone," she said. "Please pass the brochure onto another flight attendent."

Fiorini and Innocents At Risk have also been mobilizing lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"We are working with Congress, with Human Rights Commission, and I think that something will come out of that and I'm very optimistic," Sigmund said.

The hope is that brochures like these will eventually end up in the seat back pockets of all flights so passengers will notify the flight attendants if they spot something suspicious.

Fiorini hopes once passengers know what to look for, they won't turn the other way.