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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Towards the eradication of trafficking in Human Beings
6th EU Anti-Trafficking day/Brussels
18 October 2012
Minister, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen
I am very happy to open our conference today, marking the sixth EU Anti-Trafficking Day.
The issue of human trafficking is one of the most terrible crimes of our time, targeting the most vulnerable people of our societies. It is an issue that is very close to my heart both as a person and as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Many of you will have read the latest estimates from the International Labour Organization (from June 2012), pointing to near 21 million victims of forced labour, including forced sexual exploitation, at global level and around 880.000 within the EU. These are estimates, of course, but still deeply troubling.
Data collected by EUROSTAT for the Commission show that women and girls make up nearly 80% of the victims in the EU; that three quarters of victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation. So trafficking clearly has a gender dimension. We also know that most victims within the EU came from Romania and Bulgaria. Victims from outside of the European Union mainly come from Nigeria and China. Furthermore, we see that internal trafficking, where victims are EU citizens being trafficked within their own or another Member State is on the rise.
Behind all these figures are the stories and destinies of human beings. I will never forget the young girls I met at a centre in Pristina, Kosovo. They were telling me their stories, of how they had been brought to different countries of Europe, under false premises and found that they did not end up working as a waitress or model. Instead they had to sell their bodies, many times a day in shabby apartments. They were threatened and beaten, and some of them had even been "sold" by family members. Now they were at this shelter, co-financed by the EU and some member states, where they were trying to regain their dignity and reintegrate in the society.
We owe it to those young girls to do our outmost to stop this slavery. It is therefore reassuring to see the sheer number, level, and expertise of participants here today.
Your presence here reflects, as I see it, a growing consensus within the EU, perhaps even globally, around three major ideas.
First - our obligation to act: Trafficking in human beings is the slavery of our times. It is a severe violation of the most basic human right – individual freedom - and a horrific crime. It cannot be tolerated in any form, be it in Europe – or anywhere else in the world. It implies an obligation, moral as well as legal, to act.
European citizens back that idea strongly. In a recent Eurobarometer poll (from June 2012) 93 percent of EU citizens said they want EU member states to invest in cooperation against trafficking in human beings. Economic crisis and tighter budgets have not undermined popular support for our shared value of protecting the human rights of our societies' most vulnerable persons.
In fact, it is exactly in times of economic turbulence that we need to invest in fighting human trafficking: because economic hardship increases the vulnerability of victims to traffickers, because it is less costly to prevent the problem now than to deal with traffickers through the courts and take victims through protection and assistance programs later, and because actions to prevent human trafficking do not need to be particularly costly. It is very much about stronger policy coordination; better cooperation between public and private sector actors, guidelines on how to identify victims; and a better knowledge base about the problem.
Second - the need for a comprehensive approach: it is simply impossible to address human trafficking in a meaningful way unless we work at the same time on prevention, prosecution of traffickers, and protection of and assistance to victims. I will come back to this in a minute, when speaking about the recent EU Strategy against human trafficking.
Third – the importance of working together: that comprehensive approach can only work, however, if actors from many different sectors work together. During the EU Anti-Trafficking Day last year, the Heads of all Justice and Home Affairs EU Agencies signed a Joint Statement to increase cooperation on trafficking in human beings. This was an important step, but we need to go wider. Fortunately, I see in the room today decision makers, policy makers, law enforcement officers, victim support workers, migration experts, activists, artists and more. The Commission will continue working in the coming years to create stronger partnerships with international organisations, with civil society organisations, with the private sector and other stakeholders.
So, if the consensus and the political will, is there to work together against human trafficking in the EU – what is the way forward in practice? What are the most important actions we have to take?
At EU level, we have two strong tools to guide us: there is the EU Directive on human trafficking about to enter into force in all Member States, and there is the recently adopted EU Strategy against human trafficking.
I will say just a few words on both of them, starting with the directive.
Directive 2011/36 on human traffcking was adopted last year. It harmonises the definition of the crime and the penalities. It lays down robust provisions to help investigate and prosecute traffickers, deliver victims' protection, assistance and support, provisions to prevent the crime and provisions to better monitor and evaluate our efforts. It is a piece of legislation the EU can be proud of and it was adopted in a record time.
Member States now have to transpose it into national law. The deadline is less than six months away, 6 April 2013. Today I therefore call on all EU Member States to transpose the Directive, on time, and making sure that all elements - including mechanisms for early identification of and protection for victims are in place.
At the same time, I call on the EU accession and candidate countries, invited to this conference as well, to transpose and implement the provisions of the Directive.
The 2012 EU Strategy
In addition to the directive, the Commission last June presented its five-year strategy (2012-1016) to work towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings. It aims to tie the good forces of Europe closer together and puts victims at the forefront. It tries to be concrete and practical, and – drawing on input from a wide range of stakeholders – it identifies five priorities:
It proposes no less than 40 measures, to be implemented both at European and Member States' level.
I will highlight just a few of them.
First - to better identify, protect and assist victims, the Strategy calls on Member States to set up National Referral Mechanisms, and make sure that they meet the requirements of the EU Directive on THB - in particular on individual risk and needs assessments and on safe return. The Commission also aims to develop a model for an EU Transnational Referral Mechanism to link up the national mechanisms. And we propose to develop guidelines for consular officials, border guards and others to better identify victims of trafficking.
To help civil society organisations and victims service providers get more involved in the referral mechanisms, the Commission will set up a dedicated Platform next year. I hope that this conference, where NGOs have been invited by all Member States and where the panels include NGOs, will help us move forward on that.
We also aim, in 2013 to provide clear information to victims on their rights under EU law and national legislation, in particular on their rights to assistance and health care, their right to a residence permit and their labour rights, their rights regarding access to justice and to a lawyer, and on the possibilities of claiming compensation.
Second – to step up investigation and prosecution of traffickers, the Strategy asks Member States to establish national multidisciplinary law-enforcement units specialized in human trafficking. In our view, they should link up the police, migration services, border guard services, social fraud investigators and also experts on financial investigations.
Third - on prevention and reduction of demand, let me stress that this is key to the EU Strategy and also an important aspect of the EU Directive.
To take prevention further, the Commission will fund research next year on ways to reduce demand, keeping in mind the need for a gender perspective. That research will look at how men and women are recruited and exploited, their different vulnerabilities to victimization, and the impact of different forms of trafficking on men and women. We will also launch a study on vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors and children with disabilities. The results will feed into the Commission's report – in 2016 – on the impact of existing national laws criminalising the use of services with the knowledge that the person is a victim of trafficking.
Another, potentially very promising, idea is to set up a Business Coalition involving companies wishing to keep their supply chains free of goods made by victims of human trafficking. We hope to have that in place by 2015 at the latest.
Fourth – on coordination and the external dimension of trafficking in human beings, the EU Strategy is very clear: human trafficking cannot be tackled by acting within Europe alone.
Drawing on the good work done by Member States in the Council since 2009, with the so-called Action Oriented Paper, the EU is working to establish a list of priority third countries for our efforts on trafficking and develop tailor-made partnerships with these countries.
The Commission is also seeking closer ties with international organisations [such as the UN agencies, International Labour Organization, Council of Europe, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Organisation for Migration and the Council of Baltic Sea States] to share ideas, improve strategic planning and avoid duplication.
Let me finish my comments on the EU Strategy by thanking those who already reacted and commented on it. I am very happy about the positive feedback from the European Parliament, civil society organisations, and also several international organisations.
I also look forward to hearing more detailed reactions at this conference, and to seeing the opinions of the European Economic and Social Committee [rapporteur Ms Ouin (FR)] and the Committee of the Regions [rapporteur Ms Drenjanin (SE)] in due course.
Let me conclude by thanking the Cypriot Presidency of the Council, and more particularly the Minister of Interior, Ms Mavrou, for helping to organize this conference and for making the issue of human trafficking a political priority during the Cypriot Presidency.
I hope that the panels and discussions will be interesting, and I look forward to following up together with Ms Vassiliadou, the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, on new ideas which I am sure will emerge.