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    Greece piqued by US report on trafficking in humans
    Washington’s assessment of efforts to crack down ‘unfair’

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up the State Department’s third annual report on human trafficking during a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.

    By Niki Kitsantonis - Kathimerini English Edition

    A US State Department report criticizing Greek authorities for failing to crack down on human trafficking and especially disparaging about the treatment of trafficked children in Greece, is “absolutely unfair and raises serious questions about the way this issue is handled,” government spokesman Christos Protopappas said yesterday.

    The report — which described Greece as “a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation...(with) as many as 18,000 people trafficked to Greece in 2002” — offers “unacceptable assessments primarily because it doesn’t recognize the serious efforts by the Greek government in this area,” according to Protopappas. Greece, soon to end its six-month term as EU president, had promised at the end of last year to make the fight against human trafficking and forced prostitution a priority during its term.

    “The image depicted in this report does not reflect the real picture in Greece... It has not included the policies and programs that are being implemented by Greece,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said yesterday about report, which included Greece on its list of 15 countries that have ostensibly made no significant efforts to curb the problem.

    The document, made public Wednesday, credited the government for passing anti-trafficking legislation last October but maintained that it had “not yet effectively enforced the law.” The Greek Parliament passed the new law — which imposes heavy jail sentences for traffickers and seeks to develop greater victim support — in reaction to the State Department’s 2002 report. But, according to this year’s report: “There have not been any prosecutions or convictions... victim assistance mechanisms have not yet been implemented and (non-governmental organization) cooperation remains weak.”

    The report blamed Greece’s “slow and inefficient judicial system” for the lack of progress in prosecuting traffickers but noted that police cadets are being given a training session on trafficking during their induction and that senior officers are sent on relevant seminars. However, the report casts doubt on the willingness of all officers to support a crackdown on trafficking, noting that “some NGOs report that local police are still often complicit and bribed by sex club owners.” “The Panhellenic Confederation of Police Officers publicly acknowledged the involvement of the police in networks that traffick women,” it added.

    Child trafficking is also highlighted as a persistent problem in the report which notes the majority of children trafficked into Greece for forced labor, begging and stealing are Albanian, with minors from the Greek Roma community also trafficked for labor. The report also goes into detail about the alleged mistreatment of minors by Greek authorities, noting that “trafficked children are reportedly treated by the Greek authorities as either criminals or illegal aliens.” Trafficked children “are summarily arrested, deported and then dropped off and abandoned along the Greece-Albania border,” the report cites another (unspecified) report as saying.

    “Minors (under 12 years old) trafficked into Greece for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation are placed in reception centers, while those as young as 13 have been put in jail for begging or illegal immigration,” the report said. “To date, there are neither referral systems for victim assistance nor shelters for trafficked victims,” it added. The USA has threatened to impose sanctions as of October on countries failing to effectively curb human trafficking.

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