Social Dialogue Magazine
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Dr. Papouli Eleni, University Lecturer, Department of Social Work, University of West Attica, Athens, Greece

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Mourelatou Aggeliki, Social Worker, NGO “Nostos”, Athens, Greece

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Lampidis Anastasios, Senior Social Work Student, University of West Attica, Athens, Greece

Human trafficking as a global illegal and unethical business practice: an overview of the phenomenon and the role of social work in Greece

Human trafficking is a global social justice problem that has negative impact on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people. Undoubtedly, it is a crime against humanity and an unethical and illegal business practice. In Greece, like other countries, human trafficking is considered as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon in which social workers are at the forefront of efforts to tackle its consequences for the victims. This article briefly describes the current situation of human trafficking in Greece as a destination and transit country in the EU and then analyses the role of Greek social workers to address this social problem. Finally, it makes specific suggestions for reforms and improvements to deal with the trafficking of human beings in the country.

Overview of human trafficking

Human trafficking is an unethical crime against humanity and one of the fastest growing criminal businesses globally. It is considered the modern form of slavery and has become a dangerous global phenomenon threatening the human dignity and life of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is estimated that 24.9 million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking around the globe, while the majority of trafficking victims are women and girls (ILO, 2017). Human trafficking is defined in the UN (2000) Trafficking in Persons Protocol as involving three steps a) Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons; b) By means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person; and c) With the intent of exploiting that person through: prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery (or similar practices), servitude, and removal of organs.

Human trafficking is a complicated phenomenon. Research from around the globe has shown that different factors are responsible for the trafficking in human beings. But the most common causal factors of human trafficking can be categorised into 'push' and 'pull' factors. Push factors can include poverty, unemployment, gender inequalities, armed conflict and violence and the lack of social security. Instead, pull factors can include job opportunities, the prospect of better living and better living conditions, demand for cheap and unskilled labour, as well as provision of sexual services, organs and tissues. Victimisation and exploitation are often the results of the combination of the above factors. According to the United Nations, the most common forms of human trafficking are trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour.

Human trafficking in Greece

Greece is one of the destination and transit countries in the EU and to a lesser extent, a source country for human trafficking. Due to the wars and refugee crisis, Greece has also become one of the main entry points for migration in Europe. As a result, potential victims of trafficking may be identified amongst the undocumented migrants and refugees entering the country. A new study estimates that 89.000 people live in modern slavery in Greece (Global Slavery Index, 2018) due to its geographical position that offers smugglers a lucrative ground for their illegal activities to thrive. Trafficking for forced labour and sex exploitation are the most common forms of human trafficking in Greece, although forced labour is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation due to the lack of accurate statistics.

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Source: Greek Reporter

Victims of forced labour are primarily children and men from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and Africa. Migrant workers who come from impoverished countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) are susceptible to debt bondage, reportedly in agriculture cleaning services, tourism and food/beverages production (GRETA, 2017; U.S. Embassy in Greece, 2018). Economically marginalized Roma children from Albania, Bulgaria and Romania are forced to sell goods on the street, beg or commit petty theft (GRETA, 2017). The underage victims who are forced to beg are usually boys 12 to 18 years old, whereas we sometimes encounter younger ages (Ketekidou, 2014). Finally, the rise of unaccompanied child migrants in Greece has also increased their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation.

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As far as sex exploitation is concerned, women and girls from different countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, China and Nigeria) form the vast majority of human trafficking victims. In particular, women are subjected to sex trafficking in strip clubs, in massage salons, in unlicensed brothels, on the street and in hotels (U.S. Embassy in Greece, 2018). Out of the crimes that are reported to the authorities, sex trafficking remains the dominant form of human exploitation in Greece followed by forced begging (Hellenic Police, Security Division, Public Security Direction, Crime Analysis Unit, 2018). Trafficking children from Balkan countries to Greece including Roma children begging in the streets are at particularly high risk of being forced into prostitution by traffickers (Anagnostou & Kandyla, 2015).

Addressing human trafficking

Over the years, Greece has made significant progress in improving its legislative, administrative and judicial mechanisms to combat human trafficking. By the Law 3875/2010 and the Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, Greece has harmonized its legislation with that existing in the EU and has complied with the international conventions on human trafficking (Miha, 2014). Today, there are two police anti-trafficking units to monitor and combat trafficking in persons that work in cooperation with government agencies and NGO’s. Interagency collaboration has become a highly regarded way to address human trafficking in the country and as such, more and more government agencies, NGOs and local support networks in recent years, have undertaken joint initiatives to address human trafficking issues at all levels of public intervention, from prevention and treatment to recovery.

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Source: A21_Greek human right activists take part in the 2018 Walk for Freedom annual event in Athens raising awareness about Human Trafficking and slavery.

At state level, victims of trafficking can be referred for help to National Centre of Social Solidarity (EKKA) that, inter alia, provides psychosocial support and shelters to trafficked women and children. EKKA also runs two National Help Lines (197, 1107) to provide assistance to victims and potential victims of trafficking including domestic violence and child abuse and exploitation. The Help Lines are staffed by social workers and psychologists who are highly trained to offer phone counselling services and support. Moreover, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality in cooperation with municipalities all over the country has launched the establishment of shelters for women victims of violence including victims of trafficking; victims of trafficking can be referred to more than 40 counseling centers (and 21 shelters) on violence running in the country with personnel who are specialized to handle cases of violence including human trafficking (EC, 2018; GRETA, 2017). Finally, the Institute of Child Health gives special focus on child trafficking by planning targeted actions such as training of professionals working in the field of child protection, psychosocial support to trafficked children, as well as a database to track child trafficking (EC, 2018).

The social worker’s role

In Greece, social workers are involved in all levels of intervention to address the issue of human trafficking. Due to lack of official data and research studies, however, it is currently unknown what the exact number of social workers working in this field are, as well as the methods and content of their work. Through personal interviews with professionals working in the field, it was presumed that most social workers are currently working in treatment and recovery services rather than preventive services. In addition, the government does not consistently use social workers for identification procedures (U.S. Department of State, 2018).

Overall, social workers working in all employment setting (government and NGOs sectors) play a crucial role in identifying victims and assessing their situation and needs. They also help victims to deal with the bureaucratic procedures, prepare and accompanies them to court or to health and social care services. As time proceeds, the social worker helps victims to come out of traumatic experience and regain their former independence. Finally, social workers work within an interdisciplinary team to address the multi-layered trauma experienced by trafficking victims.

In Greece, due to high rates of migrants' inflow in recent years, victims of human trafficking may, at sometime, be detected in refugees' camps. Thus, social workers and other professionals working with refugee and migrants need to be able to listen and build trust to identify someone in the trafficking situation. This is because, as Alvarez and Alessi (2012) note, trafficking victims initially do not show special characteristics to be distinguished from the general population. However, professionals are not always capable of recognizing a potential victim or identifying a trafficking victim, either because they are not appropriately trained to do so or because of the rush procedures and conditions of transition existing in refugee camps (U.S. Department of State, 2018).

Finally, it is important to point out, that, during the past years, several training programs have been conducted to inform front line professionals including social workers about the trafficking of adults and children in particular. Yet, most of these programs referred to personnel working on state's services and not to those employed privately (G.R.E.T.A., 2017); many social workers working in the private sector tend to be partially unaware of the details of caring for a trafficked victim and as a result, they do not use victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches.

Conclusion and implications

The human trafficking trade is a global social justice problem that needs cooperation through partnership- based approaches and targeted interventions at all levels in order to be addressed effectively. As stated, Greece has made significant efforts to combat this problem. Despite all its efforts, further structural reforms and grounded evidence-based practice information are needed in order to eliminate the phenomenon of trafficking holistically. At the same time, rigorous research studies are required to better understand human trafficking on a local level, as well as public awareness campaigns to spread messages which educate the public to recognize it. Moreover, it is important to establish protective specialized services (e.g. shelters for male adults) for trafficking victims to avoid further marginalization and social exclusion. Furthermore, there must be adequate programs to train social workers to provide specialized services to meet the unique needs of trafficked victims, both in the public and private sector. Given that human trafficking is a social justice problem with catastrophic outcomes for individuals and societies, the role of the social worker as human rights defenders and helpers of survivors is the key to addressing this problem. To this end, social work schools in Greece have much to offer by providing their students with the appropriate knowledge and skills to adequately prepare themselves to deal with such a serious social problem.


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