Europe's enormous human trafficking problem


Amnesty International activists wearing T-shirts reading 'end modern slavery' protest against human trafficking near the Ministry of Justice in Athens on March 7, 2008 a day before the International Women Day. According to Amnesty International, Greece has been a transit and destination country for trafficked persons since the early 1990s.


Louisa Gouliamaki

While most of the European economy is contracting, there's one unfortunate industry that's booming, according to a new report -- the increasingly profitable trade in human persons.

Human trafficking generates $32 billion a year worldwide, according to a 2012 United Nations report, with Europe a central hub critical to the global industry. 

"In our free and democratic E[uropean] U[nion], 23,600 human beings are deprived of their liberty," Cecilia Malmström, the bloc's commissioner for home affairs, told reporters on Monday.

The staggering figure looks to rise if nothing is done about it, given that the 23,600 victims -- the total number of people believed trafficked into the bloc from 2008-2010 -- represented an increase of nearly 20 percent, said the report.

Convictions fell by 13 percent during that period, according to the data

This is troubling. Malmström chided European states for basically ignoring a sweeping new anti-trafficking directive intended to significantly curb trafficking efforts, with only six of the bloc's 27 members having implemented the measure in their national legislatures.

"I am very disappointed to see that, despite these alarming trends, only a few countries have implemented the anti-trafficking legislation and I urge those who have not yet done so to respect their obligations," Malmström said

The directive helps protect victims by addressing criminal law procedures and prosecution efforts. It also requires states to establish a new position tasked with keeping track of trafficking activity by gathering data and following criminal leads. The majority of those trafficked in Europe are women and children. 

The United Nations report said Europe plays a "significant role in terms of origin of trafficking" because the number of nations involved far outstrips that of any other region -- with "flows originating in more than 110 origin countries in all regions of the world." (See page 58.)

View the whole UN report here and Monday's EU report here