Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia

by ASTRA - Anti trafficking action (ASTRA - Akcija protiv trgovine ljudima)
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia

The first information about the exploitation of Serbian workers in Germany came in October 2022. Associates who contacted us for assistance in returning one group of people to Serbia share this information with us.

In a short period, from the same organization, we were informed about other workers who also returned to Serbia. All cases were connected and involved victims who the same company exploited, but in different cities throughout Germany. One common factor among all of them is their desperation to find a job to provide for their families, but they were deceived and exploited. In the end, they returned home without any earnings.

ASTRA Victim support team spoke and met with survivors and organized different types of assistance, depending on their needs and their life circumstances.

Recruitment method:

Five out of nine victims found a job ad through a social network and called the listed number. Four victims received a job offer from an acquaintance from their place of living. In both cases, the negotiations for the job were conducted by a man who represented himself as a company driver. The job offer included a one-way ticket to Germany, accommodation and food, as well as six days of work per week and eight to ten hours of work per day. The company promised a work permit to all workers upon their arrival in Germany.

Exploitation period:

Upon arrival in Germany, the company took the workers' passports, allegedly for "a work permit registration."

The workers were sent to collective accommodation, far from the facilities where they worked, and which they described as "dirty, smelly, with bugs and rats, one toilet for 40 workers with no hot water most of the time."

The workday began at 5 am with a 45-minute drive to the facility. The duration of worktime was at least ten hours, but usually twelve or fourteen hours. The workers were paid significantly less than promised, as the accommodation cost was taken from their salary every month and other expenses were deducted. They were left with no money to send to their families.

Victims reported witnessing or personally experiencing insults, blackmail and psychological harassment by company managers, making them feel intimidated at all times. Some workers were exploited for only a few days, while others endured for several months before the police entered the facilities, arrested the suspects, and connected the workers with NGOs for assistance.

Services provided by ASTRA:

ASTRA established contact with nine victims and provided support and assistance, including aid packages with food, hygienic kits and other necessities. Some victims required medical and psychological assistance due to the poor living conditions and trauma they experienced. We scheduled appointments with doctors, organized transportation and provided adequate medication.

In the previous period, we scheduled appointments and escorted the victims to the German Embassy in Serbia.

According to data from NGO organizations in Germany, more than 80 victims of labor exploitation have been identified. The majority of the victims are from Serbia. The final number of victims will be confirmed after completing a thorough investigation. Through media reports, we found that several suspects have been arrested, and seven individuals are under investigation.

The victims are still at high risk due to their poor living conditions and financial situation. Together, we still try to find ways to improve the quality of life for the survivors. To prevent fraud and re-trafficking, we searched and checked new job offers they saw. We also introduced them to the mobile application Safe at Work, which ASTRA recently developed to inform persons at risk on time and protect them from labor exploitation.

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Public space installation - Labyrinth of THB
Public space installation - Labyrinth of THB

With the HOW CLOSE ARE YOU? campaign, which will last from September until the end of 2022, we will try to raise awareness that anyone can be a victim of human trafficking and that human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation takes place nearby.

We want to encourage people to pay attention, recognize trafficking in their environment and report the case. But at the same time, if they are a potential victim, we want to educate them to recognize the early signs that may indicate that they have received a false job offer or are at risk so that they seek advice or help based on that. We especially appeal to employees in health care, social care, prosecutor's office, courts, police, and competent institutions (whose role is essential in recognizing and protecting victims of human trafficking) to perform their duties in an informed and responsible manner.

We will started the information and prevention campaign of human trafficking, i.e., one of its increasingly present forms - human trafficking for labor exploitation, with a public event that will take place on Republic Square, on Wednesday, September 21, at 12 noon.

On this occasion, an installation - Labyrinth of human trafficking was installed on the Square. With this labyrinth, we wanted to bring the experience of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation closer to citizens. By moving through the labyrinth, citizens were able to learn more about the ways of entering the chain of human trafficking and the types of prevention and assistance available to them. The labyrinth was set until September 23 at 5 p.m., and members of our team informed passers-by during those three days about prevention methods, the rights of victims of labor exploitation, and free-of-charge ASTRA support services.

Most victims of human trafficking exploited on the territory of Serbia are citizens of our country. Out of a total of 46 officially identified victims of human trafficking in Serbia in 2021, 39 of them are Serbian citizens. These are official data, but many victims of human trafficking who never reach state authorities or non-governmental organizations remain invisible and far from the public eye, because exploitation occurs in closed spaces, private households, fields, estates, or fenced and closed factories and construction sites. The number of undetected and unrecognized cases of human trafficking by system institutions, according to experts' estimates, can be up to 10 times higher than the number of registered victims. According to the latest report of the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2021, the number of victims of human trafficking raised to 10 more million (a total of 50 million people), while around 28 million people worldwide are in a situation of forced labor. In this sense, Serbia is no exception. Moreover, bearing in mind the strategic-geographical position of Serbia, economic and war migration, the covid pandemic, and its consequences on the economy, the number of (potential) domestic and foreign trafficking victims is increasing. Numerous cases indicate this from the practice of ASTRA, some of which never reach the public, and some are discussed but in a limited form.

Although the crisis, society, and the unresponsiveness of the institutions are pushing us to accept a situation in which an increasing number of people in our environment will agree to difficult working conditions or find themselves in a situation of forced labor that they cannot leave − with the campaign HOW CLOSE ARE YOU? We want to remind our citizens that we are dealing with human lives and destinies that can be permanently damaged or destroyed by such treatment. And that's why: Report, it is a matter of life! ASTRA SOS hotline 011 785 0000.

The campaign will be based on three storylines from the practice of ASTRA that best illustrate the contemporary forms of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation that we have encountered in recent years. It will also cover the causes and consequences of this criminal act and how actors in combating human trafficking, competent institutions, and society reacted to them. Our goal, as ever before, is to improve the position of victims and potential victims of human trafficking in our society.

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More than 13,000 citizens of Ukraine have passed through Serbia since the beginning of the war on Ukraine's territory, while more than 6,000 are still in Serbia. Most of them are located in reception centers. The reception camp in Bujanovac near Vranje is mainly specialized for migrants from Ukraine. According to our information, most of the people in the camp are children and women. Also, some children travel unaccompanied. Many refugees in Serbia are here independently, i.e., they found temporary accommodation on their own.

The influx of refugees has mobilized not only humanitarians but also many traffickers and smugglers, who are trying to make money by exploiting this particularly vulnerable group. Immediately after the beginning of the war and migrations from many border crossings, there were reports that human traffickers were noticed in the border area. Women and children are especially at risk. That is why ASTRA has developed information flyers in Ukrainian intended for safe migration and protection from human trafficking and disappearances of children with contacts for case reporting, help, and support!

To distribute information leaflets to those who need them most, we contacted the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgrade and activist organizations and groups working with refugees. We forwarded part of the material with the help of women's and human rights activists at the border crossings between Ukraine and Poland, bearing in mind that the influx of refugees from Ukraine to Poland is the largest. With the help of organizations from the south of Serbia, we distributed the rest to the reception centers.

We learned from the staff of the Ukrainian Embassy that most of the migrants from Ukraine who are currently in Serbia are in transit and intend to continue to one of the countries of Western Europe or back to Ukraine, to cities where there are no war conflicts at the moment.

For now, there are no identified victims of human trafficking originating from Ukraine on the territory of Serbia. However, we will find out the real consequences of this war conflict in this sense only much later.

LINK PDF protection against human trafficking:

LINK PDF reporting missing children:

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On 18 October, the EU International Day against Trafficking, ten European civil society organizations received their Child10 Award at the Royal Castle in Stockholm, Sweden. Amongst these organizations is ASTRA, who, together with the other nine organisations were awarded for their work against human trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The Award was presented by Her Majesty Queen Silvia.

The Global Report on Trafficking in persons from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that every third victim of human trafficking are children and that 9 out of 10 of the victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation are girls and women. The selected Awarded Members are all organizations working to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to support the victims all around Europe.

– This year’s Awarded Member Organizations are all dedicated organizations in the fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in Europe. They all have impressive track records and are making a substantial impact on the ground. We are extremely proud to have them as a part of our network, says Jacob Flärdh, Secretary General Child10.

The ten organizations selected as Child10 Awarded Members for 2021 have, during the past year, been working together to identify common challenges and best practices as well as jointly advocating for effective and durable solutions. They have also received a grant of 10.000 Euros from Her Majesty Queen Silvia´s Foundation as well as an individual support program to scale the impact of their organizations in support of our program partner Applied Value.

Astra has been a driving force in protecting victims of human trafficking in Serbia for two decades and  has remained true to its cause despite a very challenging context. They are today one of the strongest, loudest and most credible voices against human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Serbia and the region. Astra’s strong commitment to be at the forefront, supporting victims and applying a holistic rights-based approach to human trafficking is impressive − it was said at the award ceremony.

One of the highlights during the seminar was a high-level panel discussion where particiapnts included Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Ilias Chatzis, the Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, Diane Schmitt, the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator and Erik Wottrich, the Head of Sustainability at Tele2.

– Organizations and governments all around Europe are testifying on the increase of human trafficking and other forms of commersial sexual exploitation during the pandemic. These kinds of meetings and discussions we have had today, aiming to increase the collaboration between actors in various countries are extremely important to stop this exploitation, says Jacob Flärdh. 

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On October 7, the European Court of Human Rights issued a long-awaited verdict in the case of Zoletic and Others v. Azerbaijan - 20116/12, in favour of 33 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were recruited in 2009 and taken to Azerbaijan where they were forced to work.

The case of labor exploitation of the citizens of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia in Azerbaijan is, according to its size and the number of exploited persons, one of the largest, if not the largest registered labor exploitation case in this region. According to data which workers, whom we talked with, there were 920-1040 workers engaged in the construction sites ran by SerbAz Company in Azerbaijan.

The court ruled that The Respondent State failed to comply with its procedural obligation to institute and conduct an effective investigation of the applicants' claims concerning the alleged forced labour and human trafficking. The state of Azerbaijan was aware that workers are potential victims of human trafficking and forced labour. This information was made available to government officials and authorities based on several reports: (1) ASTRA report (a report based on the testimony of injured workers compiled by ASTRA in cooperation with partner organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia), (2) the 2011 report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance ECRI, and (3) the report of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings GRETA from 2014.

In addition, all injured workers were awarded compensation for non-pecuniary damage of 5,000 euros, which should be paid to them by the state of Azerbaijan.

We are very pleased that we have contributed to the fact that even this piece of justice that the victims of the SerBAz case deserve sees the light of day. You can find more about the verdict and the SerBaz case (with a few useful links) HERE!

In the past 20 years, our citizens have been exploited in Malta, Azerbaijan, Russia, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and others. At the same time, both domestic and foreign citizens were exploited in Serbia, but so far there has been no verdict in Serbia on this occasion.

Circumstances change, what you wanted and what motivates you to always do more than expected, sometimes get such a positive outcome. We expect that the EC ruling will have a direct, positive and encouraging effect on the protection of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation in our country as well.

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Project Leader:
Marija Andjelkovic
Belgrade , Serbia
$25,077 raised of $30,000 goal
396 donations
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