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The State Can Not Protect Georgians from Trafficking

After collapse of the Soviet Union up to a million residents have left Georgia. Majority of them moved to Russia or the western countries to work and live.  With increase in emigration, the number of the travel agencies increased rapidly as well. The research shows that tens of such agencies may be involved in sharply raising levels of human trafficking, head of the NGO Center for Protection of Rights of Foreigners and Migrants Nugzar Sulashvili says.

Law enforcers never arrested any of the traffickers. To further complicate the situation there is no legislative framework to prosecute traffickers.

“Law enforcement agencies are not qualified and informed well enough to fight trafficking,”  Paata Gomelauri, head of the press-service of the Interior Ministry of Georgia says. According to his words, cases of trafficking of Georgians are competence of Georgia Bureau of the Interpol. However, the secretariat of the Bureau reports that the Bureau is not engaged in trafficking issues at all.

Center for Protection of Rights of Foreigners and Migrants says the trafficking has protectors in the high echelons of the government. The organization has filed information to the Parliamentary Committee for Procedural Matters regarding an MP they say was implicated covering traffickers. However the only reply from the committee was “we have gathered information about the MP and did not find any violations related to him”. The NGO does not reveal the name of the MP.

“We have information on tens of travel agencies that are involved in trafficking business. We demanded launching of the crime cases with the articles on forced prostitution and swindle on many of them. However only one crime case was actually filed” – says head of the Center Nugzar Sulashvili. According to his words hundreds of victims appeal to the law enforcing agencies and demand protection of their rights or punishment of those, because of whom they have become the victims of the trafficking. But no real response has ever followed these appeals.

The law enforcers neither respond appropriately to the fact that many of the migrants use illegal documentation on their employment and bank accounts to acquire visas. These illegal documents often come from the Parliament, various ministries, the State Chancellery, Nugzar Sulashvili says.

“These documents often are made so good, that I doubt they were forged. As I know from the tourist agencies, people pay money to get the real documents with falsified information from the governmental agencies” – says Nugzar Sulashvili.

Turkey, France and Spain – these are the most desired destinations for Georgian traffickers. The US is the major destination as well. Georgian victims of trafficking often are employed in sex industry, as maids, at the striptease bars and restaurants, factories and construction sites.

Usually the traffickers seize documents of the migrants. The work is always much harder then promised and salary – incomparably lower then initially promised.

In Georgia the Center for Protection of Rights of Foreign Citizens and Migrants has registered 336 victims of trafficking, among which 265 are women and 71 – men.

“I think that the real figure victims is two or three times bigger then we have registered, because many of the victims are hesitant disclosing their recent work. Others still are abroad and are being discriminated by the traffickers” – Sulashvili says.

Until recently it was claimed that Georgia represented an export country in the trafficking worldwide business. However, the latest facts revealed that there are victims of trafficking presently detained in Georgia.

On March 11 a Russian citizen Vladimir Yepishin was released from Pankisi gorge being detained there since 1999. According to his words, Chechens were forcing him to work for them without any wage as a herdsman. He said he was brought to Pankisi from Chechnya, where he was trafficked in 1998. The released claims there are still several Russians suffering from exploitation by Chechens in the gorge.

Georgian victims of trafficking often say that force has been used against them. Quite often they were threatened with death too. Therefore it becomes clear why it is so hard to escape slavery and exploitation in hands of the traffickers. One young girl, victim of the trafficking says that she was involved in trafficking under the threats and intimidation (click for her story).

The Center does not have information on murder of any of the victims of trafficking. However there was one case when a young Georgian woman committed suicide after escaping from the sex industry. The reason of suicide is believed to be a pressure from the traffickers.

“The worst thing is that the victims do not know how to protect their right. They keep avoiding the law enforcing or diplomatic institutions that are supposed to protect their rights” – says Nugzar Sulashvili.

There is no law in Georgia, which would have protected citizens from trafficking. The draft law, elaborated by the non-governmental organizations has been submitted to the Parliament two years ago for discussions and there are no prospects that it would be adopted. Because of absence of such legislation and negligence of the state authorities, any citizen of Georgia who tries to find escape from hard social conditions abroad may become a victim of trafficking.

By Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia

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