Police and civil society act forcefully to reduce trafficking and assist victims.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 31/08/13
Police are inspecting locales in Struga (pictured above), Tetovo, Gostivar and other places in western Macedonia suspected of being involved in human trafficking. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
The recent discovery of 20 young women from Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Serbia who were forced to work illegally in western Macedonia puts renewed focus on efforts to stop human trafficking in southeast Europe.
The women were discovered working in nightclubs, bars and restaurants. Many were working in Veleshta, a village near Struga that was once a regional prostitution centre.
"The fact is, a large number of the women do not report this kind of crime. The cases in which the women gave statements and supported the police's suspicions [of trafficking] we immediately followed up on by pressing charges," Ivo Kotevski, spokesperson for the Macedonian police, told SETimes.
Civil society experts said the young women are most often lured with promises of legitimate employment only to be forced to prostitution and kept against their will. There are many projects to educate residents on how best to defend themselves as well as report instances of human trafficking, according to Dragica Pavelska Popeska, president of the NGO Ezerka in Struga.
Popeska said the latest project, "Open Your Eyes, People Are Trafficked, Get Informed," involved delivering educational materials and brochures to students and their parents.
"The [advocacy] we will continue in the future. Ours is a border region with Albania and we are not spared the trafficking of women as well as men," Popeska told SETimes.
Other NGOS have focused on providing services to victims and co-operating with sister organisations across the Balkans to co-ordinate activities that ease the process of return for the victims.
Otvorena Porta (Open Gate), a Skopje-based NGO, opened the first centre for human trafficking victims in Macedonia in 2005.
Since then, the centre has assisted 102 victims by providing them housing, food, clothes, personal hygiene packages, psycho-social and legal advice, medical examinations and educational courses.
The vast majority of the young women at the centre are between 15 and 17 years old, said Maja Varoshlija, manager of the victim support at Otvorena Porta.
"The women arrive at the nightclubs in western Macedonia by answering fake employment circulars for waitresses or dancers. Once they arrive, at first they work on what was agreed on, but later on the owners force them to perform sexual acts for clients," Varoshlija told SETimes.
Government and civil society representatives are increasingly co-operating through the National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking, whose members include international organisations.
The commission has created a national plan and a strategy for conducting training for police officers, social workers and others that deal with human trafficking.
Civil society also emphasises the SOS phone line which has existed in Macedonia since 2002 and is available to all citizens, not just victims, to report human trafficking. More than 2,000 people have utilised the phone line in the past decade.
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