September 29, 2014 / 11:09 PM / 3 years ago

Trafficking victims in Europe forced into life of crime

4 Min Read

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Linh, a 14-year-old Vietnamese girl, is found in a cannabis farm during a police raid in the Netherlands.

Hundreds of miles (kms) away in Britain Maria, a 13-year-old Roma girl, works 12 hours a day begging and stealing.

What do they have in common?

Both are among a growing number of adults and children being trafficked to commit crimes across Europe, including cannabis cultivation, drug smuggling, fraud and sham marriages, Anti-Slavery International said in a report released on Tuesday.

Traffickers are also forcing victims to deal drugs, produce counterfeit DVDs and cigarettes, pickpocket, take part in illegal adoption and even cook crystal meth, the report said.

Based on two years of research, it found that Vietnamese, Chinese and people from southeastern Europe, many of Roma origin, were most often the victims of trafficking for forced criminality.

"Trafficking for forced criminality is probably larger than anyone has anticipated," Klara Skrivankova, Anti-Slavery's advocacy coordinator, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We're not talking about isolated cases. The numbers in the report are the tip of the iceberg," she said in an interview.

In Britain alone, 362 of the 2,255 potential victims of trafficking identified in a 2012 study by the UK Human Trafficking Centre were victims of forced criminality.

'Cases Everywhere'

Much of the attention in trafficking cases focuses on victims forced into commercial sex work, and the plight of people forced to commit crimes has been largely overlooked, experts say.

One reason is that victims of this kind of trafficking, like victims of forced labor, are less visible, Skrivankova said.

"Very rarely are victims identified," she said, calling the failure an indictment of recent anti-trafficking policies, laws and procedures.

"(Victims) have already been punished and have suffered through trafficking and they are punished yet again by those who should actually be helping them and identifying them," she said.

"(But) it's very much the same as trafficking for forced labor - when you become sensitive and attuned to it, you will see the cases are there and they are everywhere."

One case cited in the report involved Lithuanians being forced by organized criminal gangs to take part in a scam involving a bogus charity.

Victims were made to collect bags of unwanted clothing donated by the public, which were then taken to Lithuania to be sold for a profit as second-hand clothes.

The report also described how some victims of forced begging, especially children, were deliberately maimed, or their clothes and shoes taken from them to attract more sympathy.

It depicted traffickers as "highly adaptable" criminals - moving operations to other jurisdictions to avoid detection or diversifying their activities, from producing cannabis to crystal meth, for example.

Yet across Europe, trafficking is still not a priority for police, partly because of a lack of awareness of the issue, partly because of the difficulty of looking at the "crime behind the crime", Skrivankova said.

"What we have in place is not working because the authorities are still unable to identify the most vulnerable victims," she said.

"Unless we change it, we will have criminals developing their business models of criminality even further. This is an amazingly sophisticated model. The perpetrators know they will be exempt from any prosecution because it is going to fall on the victim."

The report was produced by the RACE in Europe project, an initiative by Anti-Slavery International and other rights groups to improve responses to trafficking for forced criminality in Europe.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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