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Special report on human trafficking

[Kazakhstan] Trafficking victim in Almaty (Svetlana, a Kazakh trafficked to the UK).
David Swanson/IRIN
Svetlana was trafficked from Kazakhstan to the UK
Thirty-eight-year-old Svetlana remembers vividly her ordeal at the hands of human traffickers two years ago. After losing her job as a child-care worker in the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty, the single mother with piercing blue eyes was desperate to secure a better life for herself and her daughter. "This was my chance. I needed to make it work," she told IRIN. Responding to a job advertisement in a local paper, she accepted an au pair post in the UK, and paid out close to US $1,800 for flights, visas and the promise of language training. But after her arrival, she discovered her sponsors had other plans. There was no job, no language course, and with food and accommodation at a premium in London, she soon found herself going into debt to her so-called benefactors. "I borrowed 350 pounds and was given a menial job cleaning rooms in a small hotel. No one wanted to hire me. I didn't have the right papers and I couldn't pay this money back," she explained. Later, the Russian-speaking woman who had met her at the airport introduced her to her Albanian boyfriend, who proposed that Svetlana work at his sauna providing massages for visiting clientele. "This was a shock for me. I didn't know what to do," she said. "Suddenly I felt trapped." But Svetlana was lucky. She was not subject to violence or rape when she refused to comply with those who trafficked her to the UK. Still possessing her passport and return ticket to Almaty, she managed to escape with just the clothes on her back. Many others though, have not been so fortunate. Every year, more than 4 million people globally become victims of human trafficking, in what has become a business generating between US $8 billion and US $10 billion to criminal syndicates. Groups operating this extremely lucrative industry vary significantly in size, geographical range and organisational structure. Amateur traffickers may operate on a local level, assisting would-be migrants with a single border crossing; some work in coordination with a larger trafficking syndicate. There are also modest-sized trafficking rings that operate on a more permanent basis, applying standard smuggling techniques and well-known trafficking routes to conveying migrants from country to country. The most sophisticated trafficking operations are conducted by highly organised groups with international connections, handling the entire scope of the trafficking process, from recruitment to transportation to the migrant's entry into a destination country. Thanks to their far-flung networks and complex structures, such groups adjust quickly to changes in national legislation on immigration and law enforcement policies, and are adept at avoiding border surveillance. GROWING PROBLEM According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Central Asia is a growing region of origin for human trafficking. "There is trafficking of women, mainly to the Gulf states, but also to South Korea, Turkey, Greece, Western Europe, and Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Malaysia. The main country of origin is Uzbekistan, at this stage. This is normal, as it has the largest population, followed by Tajikistan and Kygyzstan, and then less so as a country of origin, Kazakhstan," Katerina Badikova, IOM trafficking officer in Almaty, told IRIN. But estimating numbers of those trafficked out of Central Asia is extremely difficult and no reliable statistics exist. Some observers say up to 10,000 people, mainly young women for the sex trade, are taken from the region against their will or under false pretences every year. Research on human trafficking is also thin on the ground, making assessments of the extent of the problem difficult. "We conducted some research in the year 2000 in [the Kyrgyz capital] Bishkek, which concluded that some 4,000 women a year were trafficked from the Kyrgyz Republic. But this might include some women with a varying degree of consent. It might include some women who are working in the sex industry, but not as trafficking victims," Michael Tschanz, the IOM chief of mission in Almaty, told IRIN. "In terms of concrete facts, we have a network of hotlines all over the country, where people can call in each administrative region, operated by NGOs. That's part of our project. Through this hotline, we have heard about 50 to 100 concrete cases. Maybe we are getting to learn about five to 10 percent of the cases. Then you arrive at the figure of 1,000 [for Kazakhstan]," he said. Until recently, both governments and society in general in Central Asia have preferred to ignore the issue. In the region's predominantly Muslim societies, it is virtually taboo to openly discuss the trafficking of women for prostitution. Victims often do not report their experiences to the police for fear that their conservative communities will reject them. TURKMENISTAN - ONE STORY Figures are even more difficult to come by in countries like Turkmenistan, where the government of President Saparmurat Niyazov refuses to acknowledge the issue. But human trafficking from this most reclusive of the Central Asian states is growing as the economy worsens and job opportunities for the nation's youth decrease. In a dingy bar in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, Roza sits alone, quietly chain-smoking. In contrast to the people around her, sharing an after-work drink and chatting loudly, she is detached and smiles only occasionally. She is just back from eight months of hell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she was forced into prostitution. "Because getting out of Turkmenistan is difficult, I allowed myself to be smuggled out of here via Iran, but I was told I would have a good job working for an Arab family in Dubai," she said. After an arduous road journey across Iran and a Gulf crossing by boat, she found herself working in a Russian syndicate-run brothel in Dubai. "It was horrific. I worked all night, every night, for six days, and was beaten if I refused to perform," she added tearfully. Continued

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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