Sarah has worked against human trafficking for over ten years. When I met her in 2016, she was working as a Vulnerable Case Manager at Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Here, she speaks about her experiences.
~ Interview by Talitha Brauer
So, we look at any women who qualify as [being vulnerable]. That’s when it’s a single woman coming in; a lot of times, if they’e under the age of 25, we flag them. Especially if they’re 18, 19, or 20. Because they are so young, we try to take extra care of them: properly house them, try to keep them safe.
We look at any women that we can see the signs of trafficking. We look at women who are within domestic violence. [We] look at some of the children’s situations, if there’s any abuse going on there, so my job is mostly for women and children, and we just look at the safety.
There’s a couple of different situations of cases that I have, currently, and they’re all a little bit different.
Mostly with Syrians, Iraqis, or Afghanis, we’re dealing a little bit more with abuse, domestic violence. And then with the Africans, we’re dealing more with slavery or trafficking.
When I first came, that’s who I thought I was going to be working with, all these Syrians, Iraqis, Middle-Eastern cultures.
And then, what I soon came to find, after my first week of being here, was that there was a lot of trafficking victims. There were a lot of red flags, because we started seeing [people from the] Dominican Republic coming in, Congolese, Cameroon, Ugandan, Nigerian. All nations that are not necessarily war-stricken nations, but are very vulnerable to being trafficked. Impoverished areas. Areas that [traffickers] use people’s circumstances to quickly get them into an area where they can obviously use them. Unfortunately, the refugee crisis has given an opportunity for these people to come in, in massive amounts. So, within the past 2 months, we’ve had hundreds of single African men and women coming. In most cases, after we talk with the girls for a few minutes, we find out that they are indeed trafficked.
A lot of the women are usually under the age of 23. And a lot of the men. And even now, we’re seeing a lot of the older women are traffickers.
We are also having to figure out and try and distinguish the difference between a smuggler and a trafficker, and sometimes those lines are very blurred... Is this just a smuggler or is this someone who is going to continue to use them, to benefit them[selves].
So there’s an abuse of the refugee situation -- people using that and trying to claim refugee status, when someone from Uganda really should not be here.
I’ve been to Uganda, I’ve been to Kenya, and I understand the poverty that claims those nations, but at the same time, all these women that I’ve spoken with had roofs over their heads, had families, had food; but just not enough. So it was very easy for them to be trapped, when that individual came to them saying “I have a job opportunity for you, and it’s going to give you X amount of money -- and you will be able to feed your children, or feed your parents”.
Because that’s put on a lot of these girls, that they have to take care of their parents, elderly parents, and that man or that woman is coming to them and saying “I’ll pay for your passport, I’ll pay for all your documents, I’ll pay for your plane ticket”. And so it sounds almost like a vacation. “Just come with me and you’ll get all this money...”
A lot of these women are fooled by it and trapped by it, and so they go willingly, thinking they’re going to enter into that job, as a nanny, or as a housecleaner, or as a hairdresser, or working in a restaurant.
But then they come to find they’re stuck in Turkey, into a brothel.
Turkey’s been one of the main places that we have seen, over and over again, a lot of women being trapped. Whether it’s human trafficking, or even some of the fabric factories that they have there: Women being trapped, not receiving money. That plane ticket, that passport that they paid for is now debt that they owe.
And they don’t just [count] that plane ticket, they add about €30-60k on top of that. And so these women are stuck.
And they’re told “You must now pay this debt, for your freedom”.
These women are trapped in Turkey. Then, what we have found is, an individual will come and find them -- We have not been able to fully determine whether this person is a good person or a bad person -- but an individual will come and say “I have a way for you to get out of this”. And they’ll pay for their ticket to come on the boat, to Lesvos.
So then they come here, thinking that they’re free, but we’re still seeing the same cycle happening.
Because now there’s trafficking happening within this island, people trying to get them to Athens, another main port for trafficking.
I would say [the authorities] don’t have the ability to deal with it, just because there are so many people. So, you look at Moria right now -- and Moria is way over capacity -- and you have police coming in and out every couple of months. And so I would say that they don’t necessarily understand the full extent of what’s going on.
I don’t want to make a broad judgement and say that none of them care. But I would say, when we have gone [to them] before, with certain situations -- when a girl has been touched on the butt, by a male -- they will claim that that is not sexual assault.
So there’s different opinions, depending on who you’re talking to. So I would say, right now, the police are not capable of handling this, and that is one of the main issues that we’re coming up against. We need people like International Justice Mission, we need people like investigators and police, who understand, and who are willing to fight against this, because it can’t just be someone like me who is doing victim identification and then taking care of them.
We need people who are willing to specifically work on these types of cases, because there’s just too many right now.
December 5, 2018 ~ At the time that I interviewed Sarah, Moria camp had over 3,500 people in it. Moria Camp was built to house 1,700 with a maximum capacity of 3,500. Today, there are an estimated 8,000 people living in inhumane conditions in Moria and the overflow area of tents, called "The Olive Grove" by NGOs and referred to as "The Jungle" by refugees. Sexual assault and violence against women, children, and men has increased. Women from Africa, Afghanistan, and other countries continue to be trafficked through Lesvos to Athens and other European cities.
If you know of someone being trafficked, or want to support an NGO working with trafficked women in Greece, consider supporting the work of A21.
~ Story & imagery by Talitha Brauer ~ November 2016, Lesvos, Greece.