- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 24, 2003 

The Tragedy of Trafficking: Organizations want to see a more active fight in Armenia

"Hope and Help" NGO works with prostitutes as a risk group for human trafficking.

For several years Armenian newspapers have carried advertisements calling for "young and pretty girls for well paid jobs abroad"; or "will meet a woman for a marriage, 28-35 year olds, pretty and joyful for life abroad."

Some might see the ads as an opportunity, but human rights activists in Armenia see them as a trap. It is a means by which vulnerable young women fall victim to the global problem of human trafficking.

While local human rights defenders and their organizations tried to qualify the new phenomena and find its origin, Armenia was ranked last year by the U.S Government as a country which put no efforts into fighting the phenomena and risked sanctions if the situation does not change.

Of approximately 1 million who have immigrated from Armenia in recent years, it is believed that at least 500 have become victims of the "sex slave trade".

Experts estimate that international criminal coalitions reap some $7 billion a year in the business of kidnapping girls and turning them into unwilling prostitutes. The situation is severe in Eastern European and Baltic countries, and could pose a danger for Armenia as well. Some say that Armenia's relatively unregulated tourism sector makes it easy to falsify documents and move people across borders.

According to research of the phenomena, girls from Armenia usually end up in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

Though the problem has become the focus of international debate - especially in Poland, Romania and the Ukraine - many in Armenia are naive to the subtext of solicitations for women looking for employment or travel abroad.

Babyan says that it is still hard to get the number of people who suffered trafficking.

A recent Internews television program featured a young Armenian woman who said she had been taken to the United Arab Emirates to work as a waitress.

"When I arrived to the airport my passport was taken by a man who I believed was an employer. He took me to the hotel. The next day I became a prostitute."

She and several other girls managed to escape and to return to Armenia after working in U.A.E for several months. Yerevan resident Marietta Muradyan was found to have organized the girls' setup. She was sentenced to one year in prison. According to court records She earned $47,000 for selling her compatriots abroad.

Last year non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Armenia pledged to fight trafficking.

The result is that the latest US report (which employs a three-tier evaluation system) moves Armenia from the third category of "no efforts to comply" up a tier to "incomplete compliance".

"It is not the best achievement but at least there is an obvious change toward trafficking issues among mass media and non governmental organizations," says Ovsanna Babayan, the national program officer of the International Organization for Migration office in Yerevan. (IOM)

The IOM managed to interview sixty returnees (returning migrants) from Yerevan, Vanadzor and Gyumri and 43 of which were victims of trafficking. Twenty eight of them were subjected to sex work.

"It is still hard to get the number of people who suffered trafficking because they first of all are afraid of police and especially they do not want the publicity," Babayan says. She adds that because of limited knowledge of the subject, victims don't know where to turn.

The IOM office hopes that with the help of NGOs they will manage to have better results next year. The office has received a $170,000 grant from the US Government to develop programs aimed at fighting trafficking.

It is for several years that Armenian women joined the list of victims of trafficking.

The IOM will organize seminars for the officials of Armenian diplomatic missions abroad to teach them how to deal with people who illegally entered the country and to recognize the potential trafficking victims.

The NGO Hope and Help will receive $65,000 to implement several programs.

Hope and Help organization actively works to help prostitutes who face problems with police and works with more than 300 prostitutes, ranging in age from 13 to 55. (According to the police there are 1,500 prostitutes registered in Yerevan)

"We will provide shelter for returnees - those prostitutes who experienced trafficking abroad. All victims of the trafficking need first of all psychological help and support. Even though they go abroad intentionally for the sex work they face exploitative conditions - are being beaten, given little food and no money," says Nora Mnatsakanyan, the program coordinator.

The organization will provide doctors and psychologists who will work with prostitutes. Also, they try to find other jobs or provide training for professional work.

Mnatsakanyan says they will try to give the women a chance to start another life. She hopes that the training and individual meetings with the prostitutes will prevent most of them from ruining their lives and adding their names to the long list of trafficking victims.

According to Agnes
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  Photos of the week
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Surviving members of the legendary Ararat football team were reunited Friday October 24 for a match to mark the 30th anniversary of their Soviet league
championship and cup double-winning season in 1973. The team played an all-star former Soviet national side at Yerevan's Hrazdan stadium.



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