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Type of document: News
Topic: Actions/initiatives/projects
Law enforcement
Policy and Planning
Trafficking patterns
Geographic descriptors: Turkey
Language: English
Publisher: Turkishdailynews.com
Source: www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?webcat=diplomacy&enewsid=5790
Date of publication: 13 February 2005
Long Abstract: It is hoped that ongoing efforts to fight the human trafficking of women from former Soviet countries will make Turkey the country dealing most effectively with ‘modern-day slavery’ in the region and will improve its tarnished international standing.

On Jan. 11, Turkish newspapers published the appalling story of a 21-year-old Ukrainian woman, identified as Tatyana Litvinenko, who was rescued in a police raid on an Istanbul brothel, where she was forced into prostitution.

The woman, reported the newspapers, came to Turkey in July of last year when she was seven months pregnant in hope of working as a babysitter before she ended up in the hands of a transnational human trafficking gang operating the brothel.

Her captors were not moved by her plea that she could not have sex because of her pregnancy. A week after she gave birth to her baby, one of the captors pushed chewing gum into the baby's mouth and killed it because the mother was spending too much time taking care of the kid, rather than the clients.

Tatyana is one of dozens of desperate women, mostly from former Soviet bloc countries, where unemployment is high and opportunities are few, coming to Turkey in hope of changing their lives for the better but eventually ending up being trafficked by crime gangs primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Over the last few years, trafficking in persons, women in particular, has grown at an alarming rate in the region and Turkey, as a preferred destination, has had its share from the surging crime.

Vast economic opportunities that are further increasing in parallel to growing prospects for eventual European Union membership and ensuing stability, geographic proximity and a liberal visa regime have attracted increasingly many would-be migrants from Eastern Europe and former Soviet bloc countries in search of better living conditions to Turkey over the past years.

This situation, in turn, is heavily exploited by human traffickers, who sometimes lure young women with promises of regular employment but which ultimately results in forced prostitution, debt and various forms of abuse including forced confinement, control of personal documents and passports and threats.

Estimates of how many people are being trafficked in Turkey are difficult to locate. A total of 262 people were identified as victims of trafficking by the Turkish police and gendarmerie in 2004, a figure that officials say is only the “tip of the iceberg.”

Ready to take the challenge: Turkish authorities say they are aware of the problem and are prepared to accept the challenge to make Turkey the country dealing most effectively with the problem of human trafficking in the region.

Pressure on Ankara to improve anti-trafficking efforts has increased in recent years in connection with its bid to join the European Union. Ankara admits international pressure but says its growing efforts are guided by a desire to combat one of the worst forms of human trafficking rather than simply to respond to an outside demand.

“We, as Turkey, are aiming at becoming a model country in the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Middle East in terms of combating human trafficking,” taking the most advanced measures among the countries of the region, said Ambassador Murat Ersavcı, the director-general for consular affairs at the Foreign Ministry, who also heads a national task force in charge of coordinating anti-trafficking efforts.

“Our efforts towards this goal are very serious.” In an annual report examining the situation in world countries in the fight against human trafficking, the U.S. State Department placed Turkey in Tier 3, the worst category of countries that do not comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so in its report in 2003. That assessment improved in the 2004 report, which placed Turkey on the Tier 2 watch list for its determination to make significant efforts at combating trafficking, waiting to see implementation of the pledged steps for a possible upgrade to Tier 2.

Ersavcı said Turkey hoped to be moved to Tier 2 in the 2005 report, expected to be released in the coming months, with the eventual goal of joining the Tier 1 countries. The Organization for International Migration (IOM), which Turkey joined as a full member in November 2004, is hopeful that Turkey is set for a better assessment after all the progress it has recently achieved.

Commending the increasing efficiency of Turkish law enforcement authorities in identifying and referring victims of human trafficking to the IOM for assistance, Marielle Sander-Lindström, chief of mission of IOM's Turkey office, said Turkey's efforts are “fantastic.”

“To me, it proves what I thought at the beginning, that Turkey has so much capacity and potential to actually have a significant impact on human trafficking, that if we can support Turkey now, when we have that window of opportunity, then we can do something positive for the entire region,” she said.

Over the last couple of years Turkey has amended its penal code, the Law on Work Permits for Foreigners and the Citizenship Law, introducing a stronger legal basis to fight trafficking. The new Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which will become effective as of April of this year, introduces heavier punishment for traffickers, up to 12 years in prison and a fine.

Changes in the Citizenship Law make passage of a provisional period of three years compulsory before a foreigner can request Turkish citizenship for being married to a Turk, a step taking aim at the trafficking of women through false marriages. Through the changes in the Law on Work Permits, foreigners can be legally employed in some additional categories, including domestic service.

In another legal step to make the fight against human trafficking more effective, the Interior Ministry has allowed a humanitarian visa for identified victims of human trafficking if they do not want to return home immediately or if they agree to testify against traffickers in court.

Turkish authorities, working in cooperation with the IOM, have also organized a number of training sessions for law enforcement officers, the police and gendarmerie, and judicial personnel to raise awareness on trafficking and give them skills to identify a victim of human trafficking, the very first step in dealing with the problem.

Sander-Lindström said the number of victims referred to IOM for assistance went up to 62 in 2004, a dramatic increase from only two in 2002, a sign of the success of the training. The heightened awareness among law enforcement personnel will also hopefully save trafficking victims from being “dumped” at the borders of the source countries as any irregular migrant, a practice, according to both the U.S. State Department and the IOM, that would leave victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.

Hotline 111 for victims: On the more practical side, an NGO-managed shelter facility for victims of trafficking was set up in Istanbul in November, following a high-profile ceremony for the signing of a protocol on the establishment of the facility held in June and attended by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. A similar facility is planned to soon be operational in Ankara.

A telephone hotline, starting with 0 800, has been put into service for help calls from victims of human trafficking. A toll-free, three-digit number, 111, will soon be operational to receive calls from across Turkey.

The Turkish government is also in touch with those regional countries which most of the victims of trafficking come from, including Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The interior ministries of Turkey and Belarus signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in July 2004.

The cost of catching up: Despite the progress, the level of awareness among law enforcement bodies and the judiciary remains weak, and public awareness is even weaker. The “fine line” between forced prostitution as a victim of trafficking and prostitution as such is for the most part blurred in the eyes of the public.

Victims also often lack access to assistance they need, such as legal and psychological counseling, shelter, medical assistance, because they are lumped together with illegal immigrants for not having the proper legal documents and in some cases dumped at the border, only to be reinserted into the trafficking cycle by traffickers.

Implementation of the legal steps taken to raise awareness is a task that needs further effort and requires more financial resources. And allocating more money to fight against human trafficking is difficult for a country like Turkey, which not only faces trafficking but also must have enough resources to deal with dramatic flows of illegal migrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Assisting the victims is also a huge task with a heavy financial cost. The IOM's advice is to build up the ability of NGOs to provide assistance for victims, including shelter, and to involve civil society in providing protection and health and legal assistance. “It's a lot to ask of Turkey,” said Sander-Lindström, adding, “But Turkey is taking its responsibility as a destination country.
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