The OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine has launched a series of 15 anti-trafficking training sessions for regional government officials as part of its work to combat trafficking in human beings.
The July and August training sessions are designed for regional government officials, because they play a key role in preventing and combating trafficking as well as in assisting victims. The sessions focus on co-operation among different institutions, the root causes of trafficking and the international and trans-national legal framework.
"This training is aimed at enabling public authorities to better address various aspects of trafficking at their local level," says Ambassador James F. Schumaker, OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine. "Public authorities' ability to work together at strategic and operational levels is fundamental to a co-ordinated, multi-agency response."
The Ministry for Family, Youth and Sports, which is co-ordinating Ukraine's anti-trafficking efforts, requested the training sessions as part of the State Programme to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings for the Period until 2010. Another 10 sessions are planned for 2008. The Danish Foreign Ministry is funding the courses as part of its Programme Against Human Trafficking in Eastern Europe.
The training complements the OSCE's overall anti-trafficking efforts, which includes work in such areas as legislative review, institutional capacity building, public awareness raising, prosecution of traffickers and victim assistance, Ambassador Schumaker says.
A growing problem
"This is a very serious problem. So many of our people go abroad and become trapped in exploitation," says Oleksandra Mecheva, Head of the Main Department for Youth and Sports, Ivano-Frankivsk Regional State Administration, who attended the training. "This harms not only the victims, but their families and communities as well," she adds.
A 2005 International Labour Organization (ILO) working paper estimated that trafficking in human beings brings annual profits of $31 billion globally, making it one of the most lucrative of criminal activities. Trafficking is a world-wide scourge, but it is believed to be growing most quickly in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In an April 2006 report, it lists Ukraine among the countries with a very high incidence of origin of victims of trafficking.
The number of criminal cases initiated by Ukraine's Ministry of the Interior is on the rise, though experts believe these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. It investigated 376 cases in 2006, down from a peak of 415 in 2005, but up from 269 in 2004. In the first six months of this year, authorities looked into 252 trafficking cases.
Changing face of trafficking
Experts say that economic need and the hope for a better future make people from all walks of life vulnerable to trafficking in human beings. Increasingly, they add that although victims have become better aware of the risks of trafficking, they are choosing to disregard those risks.
A report on public awareness of trafficking, conducted in response to an OSCE request by the Ukrainian Institute for Social Research, showed that 82 per cent of Ukrainians considered human trafficking as a serious problem. They also believed the problem had nothing to do with them. Only 35 per cent considered that this could happen to them or to those close to them.
"Even individuals with a university-level education and considerable life experience become victims of trafficking," says Hlib Yasnytsky, OSCE Human Rights Officer.
Economic need, or a desire for improvement, makes many vulnerable. Salaries in Chernihiv region, for example, average some 155 euros a month, with unemployment benefits at 30 to 40 euros a month, according to Kateryna Tymoshchenko, Deputy Head, Main Department of Labour and Social Protection for the Population of the regional state administration. Only some two per cent of the population in that region earns more than 295 euros a month.
Elvira Mruchkovska, head of the non-governmental organization Suchasnyk in Chernivtsi, who attended the OSCE training, says the reasons why victims over the past five years are increasingly opting to ignore potential risks are two-fold. "First, they are motivated to seek better economic opportunities abroad. Second, the possibilities for legal migration are so limited they have to consent to the services of unscrupulous agents."
Victims all too often take the information they receive for granted, says attendee Oleksandr Vasylyev, Head Specialist, Department for Family, Youth and Sports, Zaporizhzhya Regional State Administration. "They don't pay enough attention to double checking the offers they get... They (also) tend to perceive their own chances for success abroad very optimistically."
Attendees say that the training equipped them with better skills to deal with trafficking, while also helping them see the direction further work in the area must take.
While his work is devoted to anti-trafficking, Maksym Andriash, Senior Operative Officer, Office for Combating Crimes related to Trafficking in Human Beings at the police department in Chernivtsi region, says he still found the training valuable. "Using the training materials, I can better use various methods for gathering evidence in our investigations."
Another attendee, Iryna Honcharuk of the Chernivtsi Regional Employment Centre, adds, "We must be able to offer (victims) good quality employment at home to prevent this, and help those who have returned by giving them new professional skills that will make them more competitive in the labour market."
Angelina Holey, Head of the Section for Family and Gender Policy, Main Department for Youth and Sports, Ivano-Frankivsk Regional State Administration, says, "This training was very useful. I learned new things and am now better able to structure my previous knowledge. Both will help me in my daily work."