The Council of Europe is calling on the Czech Republic to boost efforts to combat human trafficking. While noting significant progress in the area, it says action is needed especially in terms of identifying, protecting and compensating victims, as well as investigating and prosecuting traffickers.
A new report by a special Council of Europe body, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), praises the Czech Republic for taking some key steps to combat human trafficking both for sexual and labour exploitation.
These positive steps include having adopted relevant legislation and national strategies, set up specialised bodies, trained professionals, and working closely with civil society actors.
But the GRETA report also notes that relatively few victims of trafficking for labour exploitation – a growing problem here – have been identified by the police, and there have been only eight convictions for this form of trafficking since 2010.
Furthermore, the Czech Republic has no procedure for the identification of victims of human trafficking independent of a criminal investigation – which discourages people from coming forward.
I asked Markéta Hronková, country director of La Strada, an international group addressing human trafficking, her opinion of the GRETA report, and which areas the outreach group views as most problematic.
“In my opinion, it reflects pretty well the situation in the Czech Republic, where there is a systematic and coordinated effort to fight trafficking in human beings, but a struggle to identify victims of trafficking.
“That is something that not only law enforcement is struggling with but also the outreach workers of NGOs, etc. The number of identified victims is actually just the tip of the iceberg of those people being trafficked or exploited.”
And how does the Czech legislation and political will compare to that of other countries in the region?
“It depends. La Strada has been working in the field since 1995, and I have to say that in the past 25 years we’ve seen a lot of progress in combatting the trafficking of human beings.
“But there is always space, or huge areas, for improvement, especially in the identification of victims, people who have been detained and confused with illegal migrants, or who are having difficulties reaching out for legal help and support because they are, for example, in a detention centre.
“Here, I always see room for improvement in making sure no one falls through the crack, and that everybody trafficked or exploited can be identified, regardless of their status, nationality, etc.
“At the same time, to be fair, I think especially on the side of authorities working directly with trafficking, there is a lot of effort to improve the situation.”
Over the years, the Czech Republic has become more prosperous and is doing especially well now in terms of the low unemployment rate. So, how has the situation changed during the 2016-2019 National Strategy period in terms of it being a country of ‘origin’, ‘destination’ and ‘transit’?
“The Czech Republic still has a kind of special position as we are a country of origin, with our citizens still being trafficked to the West. We are a country of transit because of the geographical position, and became a country of destination within the past 10-15 years, I’d say.
“The low unemployment rate, in our opinion, is influencing the type of people being trafficked outside of the Czech Republic. What we are seeing lately is such persons usually have some added vulnerability that makes them more prone or susceptible to offers of a risky job abroad.
“On the opposite side, there is a huge market for people being trafficked into the Czech Republic, which comes with the higher prosperity of the country, naturally.”
While in the early 2000s, the Czech Republic was primarily a country of origin, especially for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, in recent years, there has been an influx of foreign workers.
The Council of Europe notes that the country’s current National Strategy includes several tasks addressing that shift. But the report also calls for greater efforts in the “proactive identification” of victims, and for Czech authorities to adopt and strengthen measures to discourage demand for the services of trafficked persons.
There are reports that human trafficking affects Roma, notably women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation and sham marriage, but also men and boys for the purpose of labour exploitation, as well as welfare benefits and credit fraud.
As part of the national Roma Integration Strategy, Czech authorities are taking measures which can prevent the trafficking of Roma. There are also several programmes which help stimulate economic performance in economically deprived regions and build social housing.