A study on human trafficking in Southeastern Europe finds that European countries need to do a better job of protecting victims, if they want to break the trafficking cycle that preys on women and children from the Balkans. The report was conducted jointly by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The study urges governments to tackle the root causes of human trafficking. 

Research carried out in eight countries in Southeastern Europe says victims of human trafficking should be offered assistance such as health care, psychological counseling and job training.

It says most of the victims are young women and children, taken by force or drawn to gangs, because they believe that it will lead to a better life in the West.  The report says they are often promised a good job in a West European country, but often end up in abusive, slave-like situations. Even when they want to quit, they are reluctant to approach authorities for fear of being deported to their home countries, where they once again face poverty, discrimination, lack of education and few job prospects.

Madeleine Rees heads the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  She says lack of adequate protection makes it harder to stop trafficking.

"In Bosnia, on many occasions, we have had women who would have been prepared to go forward and give testimony, but would not do so, because we could not give them adequate protection in Eastern Europe," she said.  "So, then you approach governments and ask under the transnational organized crime convention, there is a provision for acceptance of resettlement for those who are prepared to give testimony.  And, then we have the same response.  It is a migration issue.  So, we are actually undermining the credibility and possibility of effective prosecution, which then undermines an effective strategy by not protecting the rights of the individuals." 

Ms. Reese says Italy is one country, which does give protection for those willing to testify against smuggling gangs.  She says the system is working well in reducing trafficking, and she believes other European countries should follow suit.

The report calls on governments to adopt measures against discrimination and to revise social and migration policies.  It says law enforcement should be strengthened in favor of helping the victims of trafficking and punishing the criminal smuggler. Experts estimate the total number of trafficked individuals in Western Europe is close to 100,000, but only about 10,000 victims have asked authorities for help in recent years.