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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
EU Civil Society joins the fight against Human Trafficking
EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings/Brussels
31 May 2013
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I am very pleased to be here with you today, to launch the EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings.
It is quite an honour to welcome a hundred organisations from EU Member States and Croatia working in the field of trafficking in human beings.
Your presence today shows the strong commitment across the EU to work against trafficking in human beings, and help those who become its victims.
It has been said very often, but I want to be very clear: trafficking in human beings is a gross violation of human rights. It inflicts severe and often long-lasting harm on the most vulnerable people of our societies, those who most need and deserve our protection and support. It is, simply, unacceptable that this form of slavery still exists in the EU.
Fortunately, addressing human trafficking is now a firmly established political priority in the EU - for me personally, for the Commission, and for the Member States. As a reflection of that, the EU adopted new legislation in 2011, the Commission adopted a Strategy covering the period 2012-2016, and the Member States agreed to follow it actively up in Council Conclusions on the EU Strategy adopted in October 2012.
All of those documents recognise the importance of civil society's involvement - I will come back to that in a minute.
That said, a huge amount of work remains to be done to address human trafficking in the EU. Human trafficking is a very complex and often transnational phenomenon. And this is why civil society organisations like you are needed. We can only address human trafficking effectively if we work together, consistently and systematically. We have to focus equally on preventing human trafficking from happening; on prosecuting the traffickers; and, very importantly, on ensuring that victims are protected, assisted and reintegrated into society.
It is therefore reassuring for me to see so many of you today. Going through the list of the participants yesterday, I was impressed by the diversity of the organisations represented: large networks and small NGOs; working at the EU, national and local levels; advocacy organisations; shelters and organisations working with victims; human rights organisations defending the rights of children and vulnerable groups; women's rights organisations; migrants rights organisations; research institutes and think tanks, faith-based organisations and trade unions. With all this expertise, there is a lot we can achieve.
As I said, all the key policy documents adopted in the EU in the last few years recognise that civil society organisations, including victim service providers, play a central role. You help create synergies, build partnerships and raise awareness at national and EU levels of human trafficking, and the best ways to address it. You provide truly invaluable support to victims.
Now, before explaining what I hope the Platform will achieve, I will say a few words about recent statistics on human trafficking, about the need to work with Member States' authorities on implementation of the EU legislation on human trafficking, and about the importance of focusing on the victims [of human trafficking.
To build solid and evidence-based policies, policy makers need reliable data on the extent and the nature of human trafficking. This is a big challenge both national and at EU level, but we have made some progress: as you may know, the Commission recently published the first ever EU Report on data on trafficking in human beings.
The report shows that more than 23.600 people were identified or presumed victims of trafficking in the EU over the period 2008 to 2010. I think we can all agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg since the number of unrecorded cases is likely to be much higher.
Unfortunately, the situation in Europe is deteriorating: the number of confirmed and presumed victims of trafficking in the EU increased by 18% from 2008 and 2010. We do not know for sure if we are better equipped at identifying victims or if the phenomenon is spreading more. I tend to think that it is both.
We also see signs of organised crime gangs increasing their trafficking activities, in response to the demand for all forms of trafficking. At the same time, the number traffickers successfully convicted has actually dropped. This is deeply worrying.
The report also shows that more than half of the victims (61 per cent) come from countries within the EU, most frequently Romania and Bulgaria, with Nigeria and China being the most common country of origin outside the EU.
Almost seven out of ten trafficking victims in Europe are women. 15 per cent of the people trafficked are children. The majority of victims are sold (62 per cent) for sexual exploitation, and 25 per cent are sold for forced labour.
It is striking, but perhaps not surprising, to see that 96% of all victims of trafficking specifically for the purposes of sexual exploitation are women and girls. The EU will certainly continue to address sexual exploitation in its work on human trafficking.
Although we need to interpret these statistics with caution it cannot be denied that behind the figures are women, men, girls and boys deprived of their liberty, exploited and traded as commodities or profit; being sold for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, for begging, forced marriages or removal of organs.
Many of you come into contact with victims regularly. We would be happy to hear from you, on the extent of the problem, so that we can build more effective policies in the future.
This brings to me second point, on implementation of EU legislation on human trafficking.
New EU legislation on human trafficking, Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking and protecting its victims, was adopted two years ago. In fact, that was the first Directive that I, in my capacity as the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, proposed to the European Parliament and the Member States.
The Directive is one that I think the EU can be proud of. It is comprehensive, covering both prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of criminals, and partnerships with third countries and other actors. It takes a human right, and gender-specific perspective, and it places the victim at the centre of the policy.
The Directive rightly emphasises the importance of partnerships, in particular with civil society. As you probably know, Article 19 of the Directive lists the tasks of national rapporteurs and equivalent mechanism. That provision explicitly mentions the role of civil society when it comes to measuring of results of anti-trafficking actions, including the gathering of statistics.
Unfortunately, a large number of Member States are lagging behind with implementation of the Directive. The deadline for transposing the Directive into national law expired on 6 April 2013, but less than a third of the EU Member States have done it so far.
I am convinced that Directive, if properly implemented, will make a real difference, both for prosecuting traffickers and for supporting victims. The time has come for Member States to deliver on this!
This brings me to my last point, on victims of human trafficking.
Protection and assistance to victims is, as you probably all know, one of the key priorities of the EU Strategy towards the eradication of human trafficking 2012-2016.
In this context, the Commission recently published an Overview of Victims' Rights. It gives a practical overview of all the rights victims of trafficking have at EU level. We hope that the organisations and practitioners working in the field of trafficking in human beings will find it useful.
The Overview document is available on the Commission's dedicated THB website – in all EU official languages. You have a copy in English in your folder today, together with other key documents which I have mentioned.
So, finally, what do I hope to achieve with the Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings that we are launching today?
Building on the consultations that took place before the adoption of the EU Strategy 2012–2016 – where many of you provided valuable input – the Strategy envisages the establishment of an EU Civil Society Platform.
Now the Platform is created, and the aim is of course, first of all, to improve coordination and cooperation between actors at different levels. The Platform will hopefully stimulate engagement of the organisations at the EU level and the exchange of experiences. It is designed to help build partnerships and synergies in the field.
We would also like the Platform to help civil society organisations, and victim service providers, get more involved in developing the national referral or coordination mechanisms that the Member States have to set up under the EU Directive on THB.
The aim of today's first meeting of the Platform is to 'get started', and make first contacts.
In the afternoon, you will have the opportunity to discuss the priorities and future activities of the Platform. I am sure that your expertise, especially in identifying and assisting victims of trafficking, will generate a useful debate.
You will also have the opportunity to discuss how civil society can cooperate in national referral or coordination mechanisms, how to engage in cooperation with countries outside the EU, and how to involve civil society organisations from outside the EU in the next meetings of the Platform.
Finally, I am curious to learn what you have to say on the links between the Internet and Trafficking in Human Beings, [both as a means to recruit victims of trafficking and as a tool to help prosecution and deliver awareness raising messages].This will be the theme of the next EU Anti-Trafficking Day on 18 October in Vilnius. It deserves more analysis and attention.
So, I want to strongly encourage all of you to get involved into the discussions, to feel free to intervene at any moment and to use all the opportunities during the day to exchange opinions and experiences amongst your organisations. This is what this Platform is about and this is what this day is about.
Let me conclude by welcoming the distinguished speakers from different EU Institutions and agencies who are here today and by thanking the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, Ms Vassiliadou, and her office, for helping put together the Platform and today's event.
I look forward to hearing about today's work, and to continuous collaboration between the Commission services and all of you.