Social Dialogue Magazine
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Vesna Sucur-Janjetovic, Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Banja Luka- Bosnia and Herzegovina and Australian College of Applied Psychology, Sydney-Australia

Social integration of victims of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Human trafficking in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina is of a scientific, professional and social importance, and at the same time, not at all researched phenomenon. Even though human trafficking is not a new and unknown phenomenon to our civilization, it is seen as a fairly new phenomenon in Bosnia and Herzegovina. First records go back only a decade or two, in late 1990s. Basically, after the civil war in former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the so called “Balkan Route” used for human trafficking. In order to combat human trafficking and provide the conditions for social integration of victims of human trafficking, society needs to react with concrete strategies, programs and projects that anticipate engagement of different systems for protection of victims (police, judiciary systems, health, social protection and social welfare, education systems, NGOs, media etc.).

Social Work being one of the most important links of the social mechanism often referred to as “social response” to human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is especially responsible for the process of re-integration of victims of human trafficking.

The main research topic was to assess the mechanisms and processes that represent “social response” via different systems involved in combatting human trafficking in Bosnian and Herzegovina (BiH) (through defined processes of identification, rehabilitation and re- integration of victims).

Operational Research Aim

Based on the knowledge on dimensions and characteristics of the phenomenon of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, being recognized as a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking, the research questions included the following dimensions: Phenomenology and etiology of human trafficking in context of Bosnia and Herzegovina: What are the responses of different protection systems involved in fight against human trafficking?: What are the main characteristics of an interdisciplinary approach to the phenomenon of human trafficking?: What is the development level of the social approach used: secondary (self-supporting groups and NGOs) and tertiary (local community, institution, organizations)?: What are the system solutions of social welfare systems, as assistance and support to victims of human trafficking: What is the professional perception of social workers on activities, involvement and possibilities of social work in the process of re-integration of victims of human trafficking?: What are the relations between social welfare and other services involved in providing support during the process of re-integration of victims of human trafficking?: What are the existing strategies, programs and projects on prevention, treatment and protection of victims, as well as re-integration into society?


The underpinning tradition used for this research is mixed methodology, using best suitable methods available for data collection for both qualitative and quantitative segments of the research. The qualitative part of the research used general methods (analitical-deductive method, documentation review). The research part concerning the role of social work in the process of re-integration of victims of human trafficking was an empirical research determined to study and understand the roles of different sectors/actors in fight against human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with special attention paid to the role of social work. Two methods were used for this part of the research: operational (for analyzing the documents contents) and survey (in the empirical part of the research). The technique used for data collection was Interview, and the instrument specially designed for this research was a survey with open and closed questions that were delivered to all Social Work Centers in Bosnian and Herzegovina. A semi/structured interview was also used for data collection from representatives (decision-makers) of police, health institutions, border protection services, social welfare services and NGOs.

Population included all Social Work Centers and municipalities’ offices for social welfare (this is in cases where municipalities are smaller in population than 2000 inhabitants). The total number of municipality Social Work Centers was 143, and 62 offices of social welfare. Every Social Work Center and Social Welfare Office had to appoint social workers that would be accountable for social welfare services in cases of identified victims of human trafficking (according to the decisions made by ministries responsible for social welfare and social policy issues (there are 12 such ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina). Due to the specifics of the research area and complexity of the phenomenon of human trafficking, as well as the interdisciplinary approach applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the research included data collection using interviews with the following people: members of the National Team for Human Trafficking Combat and members of its’ Sub-teams (Action Group and BiH Council for Children), police officers, representatives of health and education institutions, NGOs and international humanitarian organizations stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, all dealing with issues concerning prevention, identification, treatment and re-integration of victims of human trafficking on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Main Findings

Phenomenology and Etiology of Human Trafficking in the Context of Bosnia and Herzegovina

According to the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), human trafficking cases were first recorded in 1995. Before an organized interdisciplinary team was established at the state level, in October 2002, some figures can be found in the UNMIBH Reports, claiming that approx. 227 nightclubs and bars were opened after the war (from 1996 onwards) country wide. One document stated that in the period from July 2001 to January 2002, 2120 women and girls were interviewed by the special UNMIBH unit for combatting human trafficking (IPTF – International Police Task Force). Analysis show that there were no systematical records of victims of human trafficking during the period of it’s “flourishing”. What makes this phenomenon statistically even more uncatchable is the fact that many official reports mention only women and girls that have received some kind of human service (assistance), prior to their deportation and repatriation (in cases of foreign victims of human trafficking) and re-integration (in cases of domestic victims). The first official Report on Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009) shows that there have been 69 identified victims of human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution (out of which 5 were males).

According to the research results, all determining factors were present in Bosnian and Herzegovina (poverty and motivation to leave the country, feminization of migration, domestic violence, labor market demands, conflicts and transition, and globalization and migrations).

Protection Models for Victims of Human Trafficking

Analyzed protection models were: International and National Documents; Legal protection documents for victims of human trafficking and Social Protection of Victims of human trafficking in BiH.

The first Action Plan for suppressing human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina was brought on 6th December 2001. The Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees brought the Guidelines for Treating victims of human trafficking, which demand implementation of principals of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000). This Convention was signed by the Council of Ministers of BiH, in Palermo in year 2000, and ratified by the Presidency of BiH in 2002. Other legal framework includes: The Constitution, the Criminal Code, the Law on movement and resident issue of foreigners in BiH etc.

Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking - Interdisciplinary Approach and the role of Social Work in suppressing human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The issues of protection of victims of human trafficking include: legal protection, health protection and social protection. Societal mechanisms as reaction to the phenomenon are represented through few institutional stakeholders being in constant interaction throughout different phases of service providing for the victims of human trafficking (starting with the identification phase, continuing with the treatment phase, and phases of rehabilitation and reintegration. The above-mentioned stakeholders are: National Coordinator for fight against human trafficking and illegal migrations, Regional monitoring teams comprised of representatives of law enforcement agencies, judiciary bodies, social welfare and social work centers, non-government organizations.

The role of Social Work Centers and social work in general is first and outmost seen through the role of legal guardian (as part of the legal-family protection, meaning the protection of child’s best interests). Due to the lack of institutional capacities in terms of organization of accommodation and conditions for adequate rehabilitation and resocialization of victims of human trafficking, BiH institutions of social welfare have partnership with NGOs that provide such services. Therefore, the role of public institutions of social welfare is very much characterized by the legal rights services and social work is very much marginalized when it comes to the service providing for victims of human trafficking during the processes of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Instead of Conclusions

All etiological factors are recognizable in Bosnia and Herzegovina and therefore require a more active social and state role, in order to reduce the effects of those determining factors, and at the same time reduce the possibilities for recruitment of new victims and/or revictimization.

Social Work Centers and Social Welfare Offices exist as partners in the Interdisciplinary Approach, but only formally. The level of involvement of social workers with the victims of human trafficking depends primarily on the individual activities and motivation of social workers. This fact endangers the work of social workers, and also limits the success of the process of rehabilitation and reintegration of victims. Such approach leaves a lot of space for criticism of social work and social welfare, and at the same time, this fieled of social work activities does not have enough government support in comparison to its legal responsibilities.

This issue concerning the accountability and responsibility of the state and government organizations in providing support and assistance to victims of human trafficking raises few important questions: Are the victims of human trafficking (after coming out of the shelter) being integrated into society or are stigmatized and rejected, and marginalized (as prior to their recruitment in human trafficking chains)? How can social work offer adequate assistance and support during the process of reintegration if there is no institutional awareness of the problem of human trafficking?


Surtees, R. (2007): Listening to Victims- Experiences of identification, return and assistance in South- Eastern Europe, International Centre for Migration Policy Development, Vienna, Austria.
IOM (2001b): Victims of trafficking in the Balkans: A study of trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation to, through and from Balkan region, Geneva, IOM. Save the Children and UNICEF (2004): Research on children trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, UNICEF BiH and Save the Children Norway.
UNICEF (2004): Research on Child Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. BiH: UNICEF & Save the Children-Norway.
UNOHCHR (2003), Trafficking in Human Beings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 2003. UNMIBH (2002), Figures for Regional STOP Teams from the formation of STOP to the present, 25 July 2001 to 5 October 2002.
United Nations (2000a): Protocol to prevent, surpress and punish trafficking in persons, New York, UN General Assembly.