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
ASTRA SOS Hotline
ASTRA SOS Hotline

‘’I thought that offenders should be brought to justice, but even though he and his collaborators committed a serious crime, they escaped justice without any satisfactory punishment. This is so devastating for me, ‘’ said ASTRA beneficiary.

This strong feeling of injustice and helplessness that have overwhelmed the survivor of human trafficking overlaps with the trend that occurs in criminal cases in the last few years. There has been an increase in the number of pre-qualification of the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings, to mediation in prostitution, or the increase of the plea agreement that the prosecutor's office arranges with traffickers, which gives them lower penalties. The victim is treated as a person who voluntarily engages in prostitution, not someone who was exploited and forced into prostitution, whose rights were seriously violated, who still suffers from the consequences of those traumatic experience. Victims are exhausted through the whole procedure, they are re-victimized by passing through the system of social protection and judicial procedures as at the end, the justice is not achievable for the survivors.

In addition, compensation for victims of trafficking in human beings remains an unresolved problem, as a property claim in the criminal proceedings is not used. Instead, the victims are referred by the decision of the first-instance criminal court to seek compensation in civil proceedings which is expensive, long-lasting procedure and is a further trauma for them. Since 2003, when human trafficking was introduced into Serbian criminal code, only 3 judgments for compensation for victims of trafficking were awarded, with only one implemented in practice.

ASTRA client, presented above, said that she doesn’t want to lose a few more years in another court process. According to her, offenders cannot compensate for what they've taken away from her and ''what they did is unforgivable, but the state let them with almost no consequences, so I do not have time for one more letdown ‘. She gave up on further prosecution in the lawsuit.

ASTRA strongly advocate and push institutions to adopt the practice of judges’ deciding about compensation in the criminal procedures, even partially, and introducing the Fund for Victims of Violent Crimes which would be able to respond immediately to the needs of the victim.

Donate and support our beneficiaries who have suffered a lot. Make a difference for them, help us to provide them continuously with legal assistance, to get back to school, to ensure job training, medical help, etc. Let's make someone’s day/week/month or a year a significantly easier and better.

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Besides the direct victim assistance, the important function of ASTRA SOS Hotline is prevention of human trafficking and violation of workers right.

More and more citizens are contacting ASTRA on different and suspicious job offers for work in Germany, Slovakia, Czech, Croatia, Slovenia, China. Based on these calls, ASTRA has sent many written notifications to the labour inspectorate in order to check work of the agencies for mediation in employment and business entities, portals and Facebook page which are advertising job offers abroad. In many cases, these mediators were unregistered, and based on ASTRA warnings, Market Inspectorate and the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Police started a procedure before the misdemeanor courts against these companies for violation of the Law.

Recently, ASTRA SOS Hotline received calls from two workers who complained against a local agency offering allegedly legit job abroad to a larger group of workers from Serbia. However, due to the difficult and hazardous working conditions, without any protection and poor accommodation, workers have developed serious health problems. They contacted the employer, but unfortunately, they were not provided with health care. Wanting to return, they asked for their salaries, but the employer threatened them with migration service and detention if they do not leave in 24 hours.

ASTRA informed immediately the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take measures with relevant diplo-consular institutions regarding the safe return of workers, as well as to organize/provide adequate services to the workers upon their safe return.  Shortly after returning to the country, workers gave a statement to the police and prosecution, as well as to the market inspection. They were pleasantly surprised and grateful that all relevant sectors with their services were immediately and jointly reacting to the problem.

This case is a good practice that shows that without closer inter-state cooperation and cooperation with civil society organization there is no effective fight against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labor exploitation or degradation of workers’ rights. ASTRA is very proud that after long and consistent advocacy activities, such joint cooperation is happening more often. The ultimate goal is to provide quick and adequate support to victims and with valuable support of many people who cares and help us with funding of these lifesaving activities, we will continue our fight against trafficking and labour exploitation. 

March was an important month for us, as we launched the portal 'Labour exploitation is real' https://www.radnaeksploatacijajestvarna.com/  . This site is created as an initiative for informing and protecting young people and citizens generally from abuse and labor exploitation. Another purpose of this portal is to help in a situation where the rights of workers are violated or if workers were exploited. We invite you to take a look and to contact us if you have questions. We will be happy to advise you, to check your contracts and help you, as exploitation is not a story – it is real and it can happen to all of us!

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Stop child trafficking mural
Stop child trafficking mural

Ana contacted ASTRA in July 2018 and ask for help. Her story is shocking: she was still a girl of 13 when she was sold for the first time by her family for a forced marriage, to a family in a foreign country. She was in addition exposed to sexual abuse, psychological and physical violence by other family members and their friends, and during the several years of exploitation, she was forced into begging. She was never able and too frightened to talk to anyone. She was ashamed and thought that she is worthless: „...I  thought that I was guilty and that I deserve it, it became my way of life,  didn’t know for any better...“

 After several years of starving and fighting for bare life, she managed by the occasion to escape the torture she had gone through. She met Bojan, a young man who was also a victim of trafficking. Together, Ana and Bojan, becoming her husband, managed to escape. They returned with their children in Serbia. But this was not the end of their suffers.

 Upon return, Ana reported her case to the police. When she and her husband tried to apply for assistance at the social welfare center, an institution in charge of providing long-term assistance to victims, they were thrown out of the office! And then Ana found ASTRA.

 ASTRA immediately provided food and hygiene packages and clothes to Ana’s family and their children. In addition, ASTRA then contacted local Red Cross to arrange other assistance such as soup kitchen. Another obstacle – Red Cross was not permitted to include Ana’s family on the list of beneficiaries without the assessment of the social welfare center! ASTRA’s case manager complained to the National Center for Protection of Victims of Trafficking, and the local center for social welfare finally scheduled an assessment meeting with Ana’s family. When they came, they were told to come the day after. ASTRA’s case manager then accompanied Ana’s family to the social welfare center in order to prevent further victimization and maltreatment. In spite of the interventions from a Center for human trafficking victims protection, the social welfare center did not contact Ana’s family for several months! Finally, Ana got one-time assistance -it took six almost months from the first contact with the public social welfare center until this family received even one-time assistance and entitled long-term financial assistance. 

 

Half a year without an answer and any assistance by a public institution – imagine how long is this period for someone who has survived human trafficking and who is not yet integrated into society, who is unemployed and have no basic means for the living! What is the possibility of reintegration of victims of trafficking in human beings, when the social protection system does not recognize the urgency of the situation or when the basic needs of the users are not met?  Ana told us: „ I cannot think of what could happen to my children if you didn’t help us. We were starving. You returned my hope for life.“  This is motivation to us to continue our work and never to give up! Each little step in this process, every little victory and every assistance is important to change someone life for the better!

 Many nice things happened in the previous period:

  • We are proud to tell you that ASTRA and her employee, Ms Ivana Radovic received the US State Department Trafficking in Person (TIP) report as the Hero of 2018!. This is the first time that this award comes to Serbia, and we would like to thank you all for your support!
  • On the national level, ASTRA SOS Hotline received the license for the National SOS phone from the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans' Affairs and Social Affairs of Serbia. This is the first and the only licensed, free of charge Hotline for victims of trafficking in Serbia. A little shadow on this success is that the Hotline expenses will not be supported by the national budget for a while.
  • In cooperation with partners in local communities and artists, ASTRA organized the "Painting the Freedom" campaign aimed at informing as many citizens in local communities, about various forms of trafficking in human beings that everyone can be exposed to. Art caravan went to the cities of Gornji Milanovac, Zrenjanin, Cacak, Kraljevo and Belgrade.
  • ASTRA organized a seminar "Trafficking in human beings - a complex trauma. A review of the complex relationship between victims (survivors) and caregivers" where 10 direct collaborators, were exchanging experience and examples of practice related to working with clients who survived trafficking, discussed on the various and innovative ways of supporting victims and on the prevention of secondary victimization. It was important to list the good practices and see that ASTRA initiative led to some positive steps in victim’s protection and respect of their right. Bad practices, on the other hand, are reminding us what else in the system does not work and what we can do to find a solution.

 Without your support, many Ana and Bojan would not succeed! Thank you for being a part of the change, making a life better for someone who survives human trafficking. Stay with ASTRA and follow our actions!

People are not slaves-mural
People are not slaves-mural
Process of painting the murals
Process of painting the murals
Stop labor exploitation-mural
Stop labor exploitation-mural

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ASTRA's representative as a TIP hero
ASTRA's representative as a TIP hero

It is our great pleasure and honor that ASTRA’s longstanding work has been internationally honored, and that we have been announced as a Hero in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report of the US Department of State. This is the first time that the award comes to Serbia and to the organization which has been committed to the fight against all forms of exploitation for 18 years.

Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who are committed to the fight against human trafficking and who contribute to the increased protection of the victims, and this year it is Ivana Radovic from ASTRA. The award for the TIP Hero represents a sign that ASTRA is an internationally recognized organization, that the values and principles we insist on in our work have contributed to the fact that we have become relevant partners in a global response to the human trafficking issue.

The Director of ASTRA, Marija Andjelkovic, has said on the occasion: “Our heroic work has contributed that the issue of human trafficking in Serbia is recognized by individuals, as well as by the organizations, which evolved along with ASTRA’s initiatives and proposed solutions. We can promise, as an organization, that we will not cease to advocate for the improvement of the rights and protection of the victims of human trafficking, to offer direct help and support to the persons who survived exploitation, and to work on prevention of this type of continuous violence.”

The Trafficking in Persons report of the US Department of State was published on June 2018 and Serbia is this year again within the Tier 2:

 “The Government of Serbia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Serbia was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by consolidating the jurisdiction for trafficking crimes under one authority to improve investigations, and by creating a stand-alone Office of the National Coordinator that effectively elevated the national trafficking coordinator to a full-time position. The government adopted an anti-trafficking strategy and action plan, allocated 8 million dinars ($79,950) to its implementation, and mandated the reconstituted national anti-trafficking council to meet at least twice a year to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism lacked established roles and responsibilities for referring victims to support services. The urgent reception center, designed to provide safe shelter and services, was not functional for the fifth consecutive year. Judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims and the government did not uniformly apply non-penalization principles for trafficking victims. The number of trafficking convictions fell for the fifth consecutive year.”

This award is evidence that our so far work has yielded relevant results and that it represents an encouragement for us to work even more actively, motivated and hard.

Visual cover of the TIP hero award
Visual cover of the TIP hero award

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Training about human trafficking for institutions
Training about human trafficking for institutions

Recently, one girl called the ASTRA SOS hotline. She sounded extremely upset and she was in huge distress, trying to explain that she was a victim of trafficking. She told us that she was desperately trying to find the solution for the problem but no one responded on her appeal. We immediately organized a meeting to find out how we could help her.

Few months ago, the relative started exploiting the girl, forcing her into prostitution and blackmailed her that he will launch the videos through the internet so everyone could see it. She was beaten every time when she didn’t earn amount of money that trafficker requested. She felt like her life was lost since she couldn’t get out of this situation. When she finally gathers the strength and reached to institutions to tell what was happening to her, they didn’t believe her and she felt rejected. They have known this man as family man and respected citizen, and on the other side, she labeled as someone who previously had some problems with drugs, who is from a smaller ethnic community according to which there are still negative attitudes and prejudices among some professionals.

ASTRA’s consultants assured her that they believe her and that they will do what she wants to support and help her. Together with her, we made a plan about future steps. With her consent, ASTRA informed relevant institutions so that they conduct an investigation regarding this case and provide further protection. Since then ASTRA is in regular contact with the girl, providing her all necessary support. The fact that somebody believes and understands her feelings, give her a hope that she will live normally.

The story of this young girl shows us how difficult is sometimes to obtain the serious attention of the institutions and how insensitive the system could be in some cases. The crucial is not to close our eyes in front of the other people’s problems. Also, it is very significant not to support prejudice and negative attitudes, but to cherish good practices. Organizations like ASTRA are there for everyone, to help them seek justice and protection.

Senzitizing general public about human trafficking
Senzitizing general public about human trafficking
An event for children
An event for children

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Project Leader:
Marija Andjelkovic
Belgrade, Serbia
$22,611 raised of $30,000 goal
 
351 donations
$7,389 to go
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