Sunday, February 22, 2004

Trafficking In Armenia and the Struggle against It
AZG Daily #027

Trafficking as an evil is spread all over the world. Armenia is not an exception. What shape does it take, does it really exist and what are the steps to be taken to tackle it? Below you will find interviews with government officials and victims of trafficking.

Prime Minister of Armenia Andranik Markaryan: “The phenomenon of trafficking does exist. In fact, it exists in every country and corresponds to the level of social welfare of the given country. It is two years that the Women’s Council within the office of the Prime Minister has been established. It is aimed at research and development of projects concerning trafficking issues. Although the scale of the problem is not large in our country, it really exists and is becoming obvious. We shouldn’t ignore it and say that there is no need to take steps to address trafficking. I would like to point out that the government’s Strategic Program of National Development for 2003-2015 includes studies on gender and trafficking issues. So great attention is paid to the phenomenon and it is certainly under control”.

In one of the regions in Armenia I had a chance to talk to a woman (for obvious reasons, I do not mention the place and the name) and tried to find out why she became a pimp and later a victim of trafficking. Ms. S. told me that her family of six had been deprived. Her husband left for Russia and she had no news from him. Her close friend urged her to make a living by prostitution and at first she received customers at home. One day she was invited to a party in Yerevan where she met people who promised her to help find a job abroad. 20 days later, leaving her children with her elderly mother and sister, she took a bus to Turkey. There she was met, taken to a hotel and the next day she was introduced to the employer as a waitress. Before she started work, they asked her to sign several documents. As she didn't know any foreign languages, she signed a contract agreeing to work for her employer for two years on the conditions set by the latter. She had 10 to14 clients a day. She was often beaten and humiliated. Once she tried to run away. She cut up a sheet, tied the pieces together and tried to climb out of the window but fell down from the seventh floor, breaking her arm and getting other injuries. Her employers helped her to recover but she was forced to sign another contract for five more years. Under this contract she was obliged to supply the employer with girls from Armenia. She had to send them to Turkey by bus. Otherwise she would have to pay 50.000 USD per year and, besides, she had to leave her two teenage daughters as hostages. Ms. S. thus became a pimp. Later she got the punishment she deserved. Now she swears that she will never do it again and is very unhappy because she was responsible for jeopardizing and ruining the future of her own daughters.

On October 14, 2002 the Prime Minister of Armenia passed resolution #591-A establishing an Inter-Departmental Committee aimed at tackling of trafficking in Armenia. The Committee included representatives of all the ministries and departments concerned with trafficking issues. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is responsible for coordinating the Committee’s activities. Valeri Mkrtumyan, Head of International Organizations Department in the MFA, says, “As a phenomenon, trafficking exists not just in Armenia and this region, but in all countries in transition. Trafficking is an evil and we have been fighting against it and will apply all possible means to continue fighting against it. Unfortunately, there has been no research that would help us deal with the problem, and I can hardly quote any data or any exact figures. One of our goals is to estimate the scope of trafficking in Armenia. In this respect, we only have progress in one direction. At least we know to which countries Armenian women are trafficked. They are Turkey, United Arabian Emirates and, to some extent, Greece and Holland… Presently the Committee is cooperating with all concerned agencies in those countries and in Armenia in creating a joint working group that will visit the countries where, according to our data, the trafficking phenomenon exists. The group will be conducting studies and will introduce the results to the Government.

My interview with the next victim of trafficking was a little more encouraging. K. learnt from her neighbor there was a big demand for nurses to look after elderly people in Turkey. She signed up in a queue, received a mall sum of money in Armenia, left three children and a disabled husband in the care of her relatives, got an air ticket from her future employers and left for Turkey with a group of seventeen women. On arriving in Turkey they were taken to a hotel. The next day the “employer” took away their passports. Then the women were forced to serve a client every 30 minutes. It may seem strange enough but most of the group agreed at once. They demanded that K either work for them during 3 years or pay a large sum of money. Only three months later, by pure chance, the police checked the hotel and found the women. They stamped their passports and exiled them from the country. K., who has a PhD degree in philology, is now in a state of depression, does not want to live and has made two attempts by poison herself. The second time, the doctors saved her life with great difficulty. The whole story came to light in the hospital when she was asked to explain the situation.

On the opinion of the Minister of Justice of Armenia, Mr. David Harutunyan, “the trafficking as a phenomenon does not exist. Perhaps there are separate cases but as a phenomenon, I think it does not exist. The criminal cases under prosecution are not sufficient ground to maintain that trafficking exists and has become a social phenomenon. There are some cases of trafficking. The perpetrators must be punished but it is too early to speak about it as a phenomenon. The US State Department has included Armenia in the list of countries where trafficking exists, based on publications in mass media. I think that trafficking as a phenomenon does not exist in Armenia.”

During one year Mrs. K sent five girls to Dubai to a hotel that belonged to a local friend of hers. All the girls agreed to go there and work as prostitutes. But the boyfriend of one of the girls learned about this and informed the police. When they were boarding their next flight, the police detained them but a day later they were released. Mrs K was arrested and sentenced to one year in jail. Mrs. K says “My friend in Dubai helped me with money and, as compensation, bought me a villa and a car. Now many mothers who have young daughters ask me to help them and send their daughters too. But now I do not take risk and I am afraid”.

On the opinion of the Chairmen of the Permanent Parliamentary Commission on Defense, National Security and Internal Affairs, Mr. Mher Shahgeldyan, “unfortunately, trafficking in Armenia exists and there are facts indicating this. There are also data indicating that underage homeless children are involved and are used in these activities. I have no facts about the trade in human organs. Now we pay serious attention to the problem of adopted children, we check the families that adopt the children and keep track of them while they grow up. We cannot declare today that such things do not exist, that women do not go abroad for prostitution, sometimes as a result of fraud. The problem seems to be rather serious where the Arabic Emirates and Turkey are concerned.”

Mr. G is currently under investigation for recruiting girls from several regions for prostitution. The girls ended up as victims of trafficking. I interviewed two girls who were sent back from the Arabic Emirates on their own wish. Their fates were almost identical. They were deceived and taken abroad. As they say, their so-called “boss” and a man who was with him were met by certain people both in the Yerevan and Dubai airports. They shook hands and the girls had the impression that both sides knew each other very well. The “boss” introduced the girls to those people, then collected the girls’ passports and handed them over to those people. Without any difficulties or queues, the girls passed customs and passport check-ups and boarded the plane. One girl says that “there was a very young girl of about 16-17 who boarded the plane without problems at the check-ups. Later we learned that her passport was false. Upon arriving to Dubai airport, she was met by Mrs.G and then turned over to three men, two Arabs and an Armenian, and they left. Since then we have not seen this pretty young girl. The room where we served clients was thoroughly guarded. After eight months I realized that I had lost my feminine identity. I behaved like robot and automatically did what I was supposed to do. Then I felt that I was getting weaker and asked to see a doctor. They refused. Three days later I could not leave my bed. I asked the chambermaid who brought me food to hand my short message to any Armenian she could find. I did not know any foreign languages and could only explain to her with gestures that I was dying and put the message into her pocket. A few hours later several men and doctors came in. They examined me and, shaking their heads, talked to each other in Arabic, then left some medicines and went away. A little later the Armenian boss and the Arab entered my room. They saw the medicines and got very angry. They took the medicines and left the room. A few minutes later they brought one of my old clients. All I can remember is that I began shouting and breaking everything around me. The guards broke into the room, tied my hands and started beating me. I don’t remember how long I was unconscious but when I could open my eyes I saw the maid who had brought the doctors. A few hours later my employer arrived and spoke to me in Armenian. I was astonished because I thought he was an Arab. I demanded that they send me back to Armenia but he answered that he was not going to fall to my tricks. Only with the help of some kind people were my friend and I able to come back to Armenia. Now I am handicapped and do not want to live. I beg you to do something to stop this and prevent other girls from sharing my fate”.

Mr. Rafael Gulnazaryan, Senior Assistant to the Prosecutor General of Armenia, says, “Trafficking certainly exists in Armenia. The situation here is by far better that in the neighboring countries. If only the corresponding agencies had known earlier about trafficking! Now everybody knows about it. During the past six months, public organizations have become more informed; by now at least one third of them is aware of the issue. All the possible measures are taken to reveal the cases. The Fourth Police Department, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, National Security, Border Guard and all the law-enforcement agencies in general are concerned with this issue and cooperate with each other in this field. First of all, this work is done by experts from the Fourth Police Department who are specially trained in this field. The level of trafficking in Armenia is the lowest in all CIS countries. People from different countries run prostitution businesses that occupy entire streets. According to police data, trafficking exists in Armenia and has become evident in 1996. Earlier, in 1994-1995, there had been only separate cases. Public interest in this phenomenon arose only recently. Now public awareness has risen and there is an opinion that the issue was not dealt with before and that law enforcement agencies only just started to address this problem. This is not true and we have always been concerned with this issue even before it started to be called ‘trafficking’ in 1998, and, undoubtedly, law-enforcement bodies did deal with it. At present there are numerous cases under investigation, under prosecution, cases of trafficking prevention and solved cases, sentenced perpetrators. In few words, these cases always existed and are at various stages of solving. Besides, the number of cases does not necessarily correspond to the number of victims. Whatever the punishment, it is important that the crime be punished and the punishment be inevitable.

The behavior of the next interviewee astonished me. It was a woman who had worked as a prostitute for seven years, starting from the age of sixteen. She started to receive clients in her own home, then moved to Dubai. Twice a year she visited Armenia and gave her friends addresses where they could apply for the job of prostitute. According to her, “very few people have the ability to learn this ancient profession. While I am in demand and well-paid, and have my own clients, I’ll be able to create good prospects for myself, I’ll get rich and then I’ll marry an old man and will enjoy myself and do whatever I want. Do you mind my talking like this? I’m not ashamed of anything or anyone. This is a job and I learnt to do it well. I am very skilled in my profession. If you wish, you can come with me and see for yourself who visits me while I am in Yerevan. Many people are ready to break into my house and beg me to stay a little longer in Yerevan. But abroad they pay better. The people here are not so advanced and do not demand much. Well, this is enough, I’m wasting my time. My pals have been waiting for me the car for half an hour”. I felt demoralized and very uncomfortable and came back to Yerevan. On the way home I had an argument with my husband who was angry with me that I had tried so hard to find Anahit, that terrible woman, and allowed her to belittle me in front of him by saying that if I were a little younger she would have taken me with her.

Two years ago the Chairman of the Parliamentary Permanent Commission on State Law, Mr. Viktor Dallakyan, after getting acquainted with the problem, proposed a law that became the basis for introducing a provision on trafficking and its regulation. I interviewed Mr. Dallakyan and this is what he said: “This phenomenon exists in Armenia. Research shows that its scope is not large. This is a result of the difficult socio-economic situation in the country, poverty and unemployment. In order to solve this problem we thus needn’t worry so much about the results but need to exterminate the causes of trafficking. There problem has other aspects - moral and legal, plus scarcely any public awareness or media coverage. We also need to improve our laws. In particular, in the law we have a provision concerning this problem and setting a punishment for trafficking but we need to enforce a separate stricter law concerning crimes of this kind. I received proposals to this effect from corresponding organizations in the USA. There is a separate law concerning the problem of trafficking in the legislation of the USA. At present we are working on the draft of such a law and we are studying the experience and legislation of other countries. I think that enacting a separate law could provide proper grounds for addressing the issue.

I am thankful to the Education and Culture Office of the State Department of the USA for their support of my work on the article and my studies that included interviews with the victims of trafficking.

By Marieta Makaryan

No comments:

Post a Comment