How topical is the human trafficking problem currently in Latvia and what is being done to reduce it?
Certainly, the problem is present, and it is not a minor one. EU Anti-Trafficking Day does not mean that there is only one day in the year when we are talking about the problem, handing out brochures, feeling grateful with what has been achieved. We work throughout the whole year. Police officers carry out investigations within criminal proceedings, public prosecutors supervise the investigations of police officers, decide on criminal prosecution of the respective persons and bring the criminal prosecution before a court in the name of the state; work is also carried out by judges, social workers, consular officials, border-guards, and non-governmental organisations. Our common goal is to reduce human trafficking, identify potential victims, and gather as much information as possible about potential cases of human trafficking.
My duty is to summarise and analyse our work in order to understand what is being done correctly and what should be improved, as well as to identify our strengths and weaknesses.
What is the real situation? Isn’t it a bit like tilting at windmills?
The problem is that the human trafficking prevention policy, the implementation process of which I am coordinating, does not solve employment and well-being issues of a state, which are the primary ones for tackling human trafficking. If the salary is not large enough to provide one’s family with the necessary means of living and to pay the bills, the people form a desire to go and search for happiness somewhere else. We are still not able to prevent the causes, we are fighting with the consequences.
There is only one state budget, and it provides financing primarily for the solving of urgent problems. Therefore there will always be someone who does not get enough. Human trafficking prevention policy is a field that usually receives insufficient funding.
The government provides quite sufficient resources for the provision of social rehabilitation services to victims each year, however, there is no funding granted for research, informative campaigns and the training of specialists. Therefore the institutions are looking for funds within their own budget or are trying to attract the co-financing of EU projects, as it is not possible to eradicate the respective problem without the aforementioned activities.
How does the fight against human trafficking take place in other countries?
There is more funding and there are more human resources in other EU states. Our specialised police unit that is combating human trafficking is very small. People have to work a lot, because the investigation of human trafficking cases is a complicated and time consuming process.
Another significant aspect is that the citizens of our country are mostly exploited abroad, therefore it is more difficult to investigate the cases, as they do not fall within our national jurisdiction. The number of criminal proceedings that the State Police has initiated regarding the trafficking of human beings is comparatively low when compared to other states, e.g. Germany. It is so because Latvia is the country of origin of the victims. As a country of origin, we have to carry out targeted work in order to ensure that people do not get into exploitative conditions.
How can that be achieved?
By working with target groups. Providing all of the necessary information as much as possible. Certainly, more extensive support from the state in relation to the provision of a place of residence and work is required in order for people not to even think about leaving. In order for people not to find themselves in desperate situations when ill-thought-out decisions are made.
What are the main risk groups?
They are young women – usually unmarried, single mothers who are not able to provide a fulfilling life for themselves and their children. Also people with mental health issues. Young men are usually subjected to exploitation of labour.
How do people become victims? Is it their lack of judgement? Ignorance?
One of the reasons is usually the lack of language knowledge and not knowing one’s rights. People simply do not understand what type of employment contracts they are signing, thus they might find themselves in situations when they have to work just for food. They often do not even realise that they are being exploited or they are ashamed to report it. Especially men. They’ve got pride that does not allow them to “complain” or ask for help.
How about the statistics? Is the number of these unfortunate stories growing?
I’ve got a feeling that the number of potential victims is growing, although official statistical data shows that the number of identified victims has decreased significantly.
I think that the actual number of victims is simply not identified. Last year (2014) there were 27 victims identified, but this year there are only four.
Why is it so?
The state-funded social rehabilitation service provider has been changed. The service provider is chosen through a public procurement procedure, where the main criterion is the lowest price. The professional experience of the service provider is not assessed.
It is hard to name one specific reason for why the number of victims has been so low this year, but I believe that one of the reasons is the lack of informative campaigns within the state. In order to ensure the identification of potential human trafficking victims and ensure their own ability to identify risks, it is necessary to educate specialists and inform the public. It is not possible without the attraction of project funding and the personal initiative of workers.
The “person to person” contact is the most important one. Especially in the regions. The more information we provide, the larger the feedback is, the more victims are identified, as well as the better our understanding of the actual situation and our ability to develop work methods for the prevention of the problem is. Besides, it is not enough if this interinstitutional cooperation mechanism is working in Riga – it has to work well everywhere! It is very important for capable and reliable social workers to be present in the regions, with them being familiar with the system and being able to advise others on how to act, because people who live from wage to wage, trying to make ends meet and feed their children, are not able to fully comprehend a certain situation and assess it in a critical manner.
*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB
HESTIA project partners: Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).
Interview author: journalist Sabīne Košeļeva, portal www.apollo.tvnet.lv. The information was published 04.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of apollo.lv): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org