Leonora, “P” and the human traffickers

Η Ελεονόρα, ο Π. και το εμπόριο της ντροπής -- Ελληνική Απόδοση

A heroic young lady named Leonora elected to leave behind a comfortable existence in order to pursue a noble goal. She travels to some of the world’s poorest countries, often under adverse and dangerous circumstances, for the purpose of providing a helping hand to desperate people, who are struggling to resist the temptation of allowing themselves to fall in the trap of human trafficking. Leonora is a representative of “Terre des Hommes”, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that fights against this form of modern day slavery.

One day, at a small African town, Leonora came across “P”, a 15-year old boy who, together with hundreds of other teenagers, worked long and hard hours daily at a gravel pit in order to make some kind of a living for himself. “P” was homeless for the money he earned extracting gravel was not enough to put a roof over his head. Neither did he have access to medical care, although he needed to treat a condition of constant stomach pain. However, his meager salary afforded “P” the luxury of being able to buy his daily groceries which consist of some manioc flour, or maze and a couple of hot chilly peppers.

On the other hand, “P”s older brother is perceived as the personification of success despite the fact that a whole dark world is hidden behind his external dignity. He was forced into human trafficking during his tender years and later decided to become a trafficker himself. He returned to the village to perform a most valuable service for his ringleaders. He is now the local recruiter for the new victims of the human trade, those that are needed to meet the growing demand. When he moves about the village “P”’s older brother is the envy of all as he flashes his valued possessions, a fancy music boom box and a shinning scooter. In that part of the world such items are apparently seen as adequate proof of the wealth waiting in the big city to be shared by the youths who would join the seemingly fine gentleman in his lucrative business.

How can any parent in a poor village deny his children the opportunity for a better life promised by such a convincing recruiter? How long would “P” himself resist following in the footsteps of his older brother?

The case of “P” is not unique. Leonora met thousands like him who agonize over whether to sell themselves in hopes of escaping what they perceive as a dead-end road in their lives or for the purpose of generating crucial income that would help their families survive. She shared some of these stories with her father, Alexandros Mallias, Ambassador of Greece to the United States, who himself has been instrumental, over a period of many years, in assisting the international community to combat the networks of human traffickers worldwide.

Ambassador Mallias used a condensed version of “P”s story to introduce an article he wrote on the ugly phenomenon of human trafficking and the efforts of Greece towards its elimination from the face of our planet. The article, titled “The shame of human trafficking”, was published in the weekend edition of the Washington Times, one of the two most reputable newspapers in our nation’s capital.

The Ambassador revealed that he often thinks of “P” when he listens “to rhetoric about freedom, about human rights, equality and justice, while the trafficking and sale of human beings is the third-largest source of revenue for organized crime, just below gun and drug dealing, and growing at alarming rates.”

Being born and raised in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, and as Ambassador to the United States, the strongest democracy of today’s world, he is convinced that his post, Washington, the city where heads of state and government come and go everyday, “is an appropriate venue for an international discussion on this savage practice.”

The United Nations defines the “savage practice” referred to by the Ambassador as “a phenomenon that involves the movement of victims from poor environments to more affluent ones, with the profits flowing in the opposite direction.”

The article reflects the hope that some day the world will uproot or significantly temper “the stifling poverty and despair”, which are the main causes of human trafficking. However, its author, being a realistic diplomat, senses that the day when this prospect will come true is still a long way off.

The Ambassador urges those who enjoy more privileged lives in all of the world’s societies to face up “to our moral responsibility” and join in a determined effort to rid off the demand for the services offered by the victims of this deplorable trade. He is certain of one thing: “There can be no human trafficking if there is no demand for its victims.”

In the words of Mr. Mallias: “The sale of human beings shames us all and strikes the heart of humanity, negating the values that form the moral fabric of our society. The victims of this business are held in bandage and become reluctant carriers of health risks across boarders, as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are rampant among women and girls forced into prostitution.”

Statistics sited in the article demonstrate the extent of the problem. The data shows that the victims of trafficking originate from 127 mainly developing countries, use approximately 98 countries as transit points and end up in 137 destination countries, mostly in the industrialized world.

As a lover of truth and a diplomat with high level of integrity the Ambassador admits that his own country, Greece, is no exception to this assault on human dignity. As he put it: “Situated in the midst of a region that erupted in the 1990s, sending forth a huge influx of refugees, (Greece) a country of 10 million people received more than 1 million immigrants, a 10 percent increase of its population in less than a decade, a huge demographic change that brought the phenomenon of human trafficking.”

Looking back to the early days of the problem Mr. Mallias recalls that the Greek authorities attempted to contain the flow of trafficked persons by increasing border patrols and implementing a variety of other measures, which proved futile. One of the measures provided for the punishment of the victims but that was short lived because the authorities soon realized that in addition to being ineffective the practice was also unfair for the victims.

The Ambassador remembers that Greece’s experts at that point stopped and looked at their own backyard. After a thorough examination of the situation they proclaimed: “If we can not change the world, we will at least change ourselves.” New laws were then enacted aiming at the protection of the victims and the curbing of the demand for their services. For example, article 323 of Law 3064 provides that “those who knowingly accept the services of a victim of trafficking” are prosecuted and sentenced to prison.

At the same time, according to the same source, information campaigns started in Greece, which “aim at public awareness and encourage individual citizens to face their moral responsibility, sensitizing them to challenge and eradicate the stigma often attached to victims of trafficking, a stigma that further compounds the intense trauma they suffer.”

Coincidentally, a day after the publication of the Greek Ambassador’s article in the Washington Times, the State Department, as mandated by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, issued its Trafficking in Persons Report for 2007. The findings of the report appear to support those outlined in the article. According to the State Department: “Greece does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, however it is making significant efforts to do so…The Greek government has significantly increased trafficking investigations, prosecutions and convictions.”