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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Fears of Athens sex slave boom
By Richard Galpin
BBC Athens correspondent

Aid agencies and experts in Greece and the southern Balkans are warning there could be a big increase in the trafficking of women and children to Athens because of the Olympic Games being held in the city this August.

One leading expert in Greece has told the BBC he has information that traffickers will try to bring 2,000 extra women into the country and force them to work as prostitutes.

The United States government has just released a report that sharply criticises Greece for failing to do enough to protect the victims of trafficking.

Prostitute (posed by model)
The Olympic Games have a record of affecting the local sex industry
The Archbishop of Athens and other church officials recently laid the foundation stone for a special shelter in the Greek capital for women and children rescued from international trafficking gangs.

But for all the outrage expressed in the official speeches, the fact remains there are just three functioning shelters in the whole country to help the victims of trafficking who manage to escape.

And yet Greece is a major destination and transit centre for this illicit trade.

It is estimated there are at least 14,000 women currently in Greece who have been forced into prostitution after leaving their home countries in Eastern Europe.

I met one, a 17-year-old called Anna from Moldova, who was rescued by the police last month.

"I answered a newspaper advertisement in Moldova for someone to work in Greece as a domestic help with children, but when I arrived in Athens the man who met me took me to a different house and forced me to sell my body," she said.

"When I refused, he cut my wrists and threw me to the floor, so I relented. Every time I refused a customer he cut me again."

Security forces

The use of violence, including rape, is a common tactic of the traffickers to subdue the women they have captured.

Now the Greek government, aid agencies and experts, all say they fear the Olympics, which begin in mid-August, could prove to be a magnet for the traffickers, given the hundreds of thousands of extra people expected to come to Athens this summer.

how can they control the last policeman in a village in a remote area? I mean, it's impossible to control
Spokesman for International Organisation for Migration in Greece
And, given what happened during the last Olympics in Sydney, when the sex industry boomed.

Security on the long land and sea borders of Greece is already being tightened. Some smugglers and their victims may be caught.

But a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration in Greece, says there are members of the security forces who are open to corruption.

"Police headquarters are trying their best, this I know because I'm very often there and I see all their work," he said.

"But how can they control the last policeman in a village in a remote area? I mean, it's impossible to control. But it's not only the police; we're talking local authorities, customs, boat police."

Equally worrying is that the trafficking networks dominated by the Russians, the Ukrainians and Albanians are becoming ever more sophisticated.

The police here began a crackdown four years ago and have arrested several hundred alleged traffickers and rescued a similar number of women.

Police 'neutralised'

But since then the traffickers have been changing tactics.

"Whenever we have a police raid, for example in a nightclub, they enter the nightclub, they find 15 women there and they find also a trafficker that gives them all the papers which are legal," says Gregoris Lasos, a professor of criminology and expert on the issue.

Olympic Stadium, Athens
Security is tight against trafficking and terrorism in Athens
"They have legal passports, they have legal documents, they actually work, so at this particular moment here, we have the police neutralised, they can do nothing. These documents are bought illegally."

Over the last two years, the Greek government has passed legislation and a presidential decree to outlaw trafficking and protect the victims.

But it has not emboldened the security forces to take the really drastic action needed to shut down the trafficking networks for good.

According to Professor Lasos, the police know all the major players but they have become too powerful in a business worth almost 1.2bn euros (800m) a year.

He also says the police argue that there are not the facilities in Greece to look after the thousands of women who would be freed from slavery.

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