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The BBC's Michael Voss reports from Bosnia
"Centre of a modern-day slave trade"
 real 28k

Belgian MEP and campaigner Pasty Sorensen
"We know there is violence"
 real 28k

Immigration minister Barbara Roche
"I am very concerned indeed"
 real 56k

Denise Fuchs President of the European Women's Lobby
They are victims of the European dream
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 23:52 GMT
EU 'to protect' sex slaves
Child prostitute
Smuggled women are trapped in a life of abuse
The European Commission - the executive arm of the European Union - is to propose measures to give special protection to women prostitutes if they co-operate with the authorities to fight cross-border trafficking of women.

Launching a campaign against human trafficking to coincide with International Women's Day, Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino said the women would be given temporary residency rights.

The nightmare is upon us... it is a stain on our culture

EU Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou
"We can only be effective in fighting against criminal networks that traffic in women if we can count on the co-operation of the victims in the investigations," Mr Vitorino told a meeting of the European Parliament.

He said the proposals would be put forward in the next few weeks, without specifying a date.

Women's organisations have been demanding guaranteed asylum rights for any victims of the sex-smuggling trade who agree to give evidence against the traffickers.

They say the European Commission proposal does not go far enough.

Estimates suggest that as many as 120,000 women every year are smuggled into western Europe and forced to enter a life of prostitution.

'Product for sale'

"The nightmare is upon us... it is a stain on our culture," EU Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou told the session of parliament.

"We see it in the plate glass windows of Antwerp and Hamburg; it inundates the centres and pavements of Amsterdam, Paris, Athens, and Rome; it is the product for sale in the markets of London and Madrid," she said.

Commissioner Diamantopoulou said women were kept in conditions akin to slavery
There was a lack of political will at national level to tackle this growing and sinister trade, she said, and a Europe-wide approach was needed.

She called for European police forces to work more closely together, and for better aid for women and children in poor countries.

Many of the women forced into prostitution are teenagers lured or kidnapped from their homes by criminal gangs. The majority come from central and eastern Europe.

When they arrive in the European Union, they often find they cannot escape their exploiters and are beaten and raped.

Sometimes when they give testimony, we have to take the girls to other countries - we need protection programmes

Belgian MEP
Patsy Sorensen

But charities working closely with the victims of the traffickers say that, because they are illegal immigrants, the women are doubly trapped.

"There is violence and we know it," said Belgian MEP Patsy Sorensen, from the campaign group Payoke.

"Sometimes when they give testimony, we have to take the girls to other countries, so we need protection programmes, which do not exist."

She also wants increased penalties for traffickers - in Belgium, those convicted face a maximum jail term of five years.


Campaigners hold up the example of Belgium and Italy, which grant victims the right to stay indefinitely if they are willing to give evidence in court.

The campaigners say it is only through such a policy that women will risk helping the police and bring about an increase in the number of prosecutions.

Prostitutes in Moscow
Women from Eastern Europe are brought to the EU
Ms Sorensen says that, under the Belgium system, women who agree to testify are given papers, allowing them to learn languages and build a new life.

However, opponents of the idea believe a more effective strategy is to crack down on the traffickers themselves, and for European Union countries to agree far tougher common penalties for this growing and violent trade.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Europe
'Slave trade' thrives in Bosnia
03 Mar 01 | Europe
Vice bars raided in Bosnia
17 Nov 00 | Europe
UN swoops on Kosovo sex trade
30 Nov 00 | Europe
UN policemen disgraced in Bosnia
09 Feb 01 | Europe
EU tackles sex trade
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