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.
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.
The problems for victims of human trafficking don’t end when they manage to leave the trafficking chain, nor when they reestablish their physical and mental well being. In ASTRA, we know that some of the great challenges for our clients may come even later- during the exhausting court process.
A young woman came to us last spring, she was a victim of sexual exploitation and terrible abuse for a long period of time. Finally, she succeeded to run away from her abuser, and after being reunited with her family, she came to us for help. She was scared and vulnerable, but with support and psychotherapy, she felt better. This woman was determined, now that she knew that the person who caused her so much pain was behind the bars, to once again take control of her life and leave the past behind.
This winter, a friend of hers informed her that the trafficker was seen in the town. Shocked and confused, she went to the police who told her that the court decided to make the plea agreement with him- he was convicted for facilitation of prostitution, and finally, they let him go until the verdict was effective.
Even though she went through such a remarkable process of empowerment, our client took this news very emotionally. She felt betrayed. No institution reached out to her before making such a decision, nobody let her know that her abuser was released. To make everything worse, this verdict made her feel that, in eyes of the others, she was now labelled as a prostitute, not as a survivor of the human trafficking. During this difficult time, ASTRA was again the main source of support. She needed to be reminded of her strengths, but also someone to acknowledge the fear she felt. There was a threat that he might try to make a contact or blackmail her, but we made sure she knew that she can always call us, or police. In the next couple of weeks, ASTRA was in regular contact with her. She felt encouraged to continue with her everyday life. This young woman was still deeply disappointed with the outcome of the court trial, but we helped her not to let this incident provoke the traumatic memories.
This case serves as a great reminder that even when violence is gone from their lives, people often suffer when they witness their abusers going unpunished, and the institutions, which are there to protect them, or at least provide them the information they have the right to know, fail to do their duty. Having this in mind, we must make sure to be ready to provide assistance and support to whenever there’s need for it and to remind the institutions that they should never forget to work in the interest of victims.
Summering up the achievements of the current year, regardless of unfulfilled plans, the feeling that you have helped someone is priceless and the most important thing that it counts at the end.
A few months ago we received a phone call from a young foreign woman who is a victim of human trafficking and who was forced to move to Serbia. She had to run away so that the trafficker, a cruel and violent criminal who was following her wouldn’t find her. ASTRA consultants have to act quickly and calmed her down since she was completely alone and very scared for her life.
Namely, one cold morning, this girl, a survivor of human trafficking arrived in Serbia and wandered around the city alone for the rest of the day. While she was having coffee at some café, an unknown girl noticed that she was in distress, so she started a conversation. After she told her story, the girl referred her to ASTRA by giving her the number of our SOS telephone. The same evening, we met in the city center and had a very long conversation. We were trying to calm her down and told her that we and our associates will help her and support her through the process of reintegration and recovery. Then we talked about different accommodation options and places where she could feel safe and we found a proper hotel room, near our office where she stayed this night. Since she hadn’t brought anything to Serbia, we gave her some clothes, as well as some other useful things to start with. In the meantime, with her consent, we were contacted Safe House to check if is possible to accommodate her there and luckily they confirmed that they could, so we agreed that she may come there.
The next day she came to ASTRA’s office. She was a bit calmer and she was truly thankful for everything. Regarding the situation and positive feedback about accommodation, we accompanied her to the Safe house where she was taken care of.
After two months, she re-established contact with the family who didn’t know where she is. Also, she starts to go to the psychological counseling and included in activities and daily routine which gave her stability and bring back hope that everything will be fine again. She’s interested in some courses (sewing course or course for hairdressers) and ASTRA together with other organization will continue to provide her support during the process of reintegration.
When the survivors of human trafficking feel safe and free to do what they really want, our main goals are fulfilled. With a little help and the support from all of us, they recovery can be easier and much faster they can be empowered to take life into their own hands.
Through ASTRA SOS hotline we received a phone call from our partners who were in contact with a woman who is victim of human trafficking. She had medical problems, so she needed help. The SOS consultants visit it her in order to get familiar with her situation and check which way they can provide her assistance.
Being in contact with her, we found out that she had very tough life and she was deprived from normal childhood. She lived in great poverty, so in order to survive, she had to look for the food in garbage containers nearby. From very early age she had to struggle for her existence, because she suffered family violence. Therefore, she showed us her drawings indicating that she is and she wants to stay a child.
As she was married by force, her husband’s parents took her abroad and that is when the agony of her life started. They took all her documents. They started exploiting her sexually and they made her commit different criminal acts. She was aware of the bad consequences if she didn’t make enough money every day. In the moments when she wasn’t in the street under surveillance, she was locked in an apartment, not knowing the hour or the part of the day. She was physically abused on daily basis, until one day she managed to escape. Afterwards, she sought help from the police. With their assistance she found the shelter, where she is still stays, so that she doesn’t have to go back to her parents’ house.
We accompanied her to all medical examinations to make sure that she gets appropriate therapy and also we helped her take care of her dental health. The silence she lived in didn’t do her any good, moreover it was upsetting her. In order to make her stay in that house more pleasant, the consultants brought her a radio, so that she can listen music. This gesture cheered her up and she was very grateful.
During the period she spent in the safe house, consultants from ASTRA kept visiting her regularly, providing her with all necessities. Apart from that they established a friendly relationship with her. That had a very positive effect on her. These were her words: ‘’ It’s so nice when someone still takes cares of me and cares about my wellbeing. That’s why I was lucky to get to know you”.
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