Dr Myria Vassiliadou
EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator
“Current policy priorities to combat trafficking in
human beings in the European Union”
Ü Eurasylum: In December 2010 you were appointed to the position of European Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, reporting directly to the Director-General for Home Affairs of the European Commission. Your task is ‘to improve coordination and coherence between EU institutions, EU agencies, Member States, third countries and international actors’, as well as ‘to help elaborate existing and new EU policies relevant to the fight against trafficking and to provide overall strategic policy orientation for the EU’s external policy in this field’. Can you guide us through some of your key priorities and activities over the coming months?
Ü Dr Myria Vassiliadou: Although a lot has been achieved to present day, it is only recently that the European Union’s efforts have been intensified to tackle trafficking in human beings in a comprehensive manner – thus the creation of this new position which I currently hold. Indeed I was appointed in December but actually took up my responsibilities only one month ago, in March 2011. Further, last month (on 21 March) the Council adopted the Directive to address trafficking in human beings. This new legal framework addresses issues in the area of criminal law matters, prevention, protection and assistance and support to victims. The Member States now need to implement the Directive and the European Commission can support them in this process.
My first priority is to ensure that I have a clear, comprehensive picture of key initiatives on THB throughout the European Commission services and EU agencies precisely to ensure efficiency, coherency and coordination of policies and initiatives. What is needed at this stage is a concrete map of what is being done and how the issue relates to EU policies in fields varying form police cooperation, trade, labour, migration, gender equality, anti- discrimination, and health policies while at the same time ensuring a strong human rights perspective at all levels.
Law enforcement is a fundamental part of such an effort; of equal importance are the areas of prevention, protection, assistance and support to victims, participation of all relevant stakeholders (from international organizations, to the private sector, to civil society, employment agencies and more) and very importantly, the external dimension of EU policy on human trafficking. This message needs to be communicated to all relevant stakeholders and this is part of what I am engaged in at the moment.
Also linked to this, the Commission is preparing a new integrated strategy to fighting human trafficking to be published in 2012. This needs to be a strategy which addresses the challenges in the EU for the next five years. For me, the outcome should be a Strategy with concrete, realistic and feasible actions. Rather than a long list of various possible initiatives, the Commission will identify the most key areas to address. I am already in discussion with Member States, experts, international organizations, non governmental organizations on this and intend to ensure wide and transparent consultation with as many actors as possible. These consultations are vital to ensuring both coherence but also inevitably a strategy that delivers results.
Another aspect of my immediate objectives includes working on the Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings which acts as an advisory body to the EC. Since their mandate is expiring, a new revised and adapted to the current needs of the EC mandate is being drafted in order to launch a call for expression of interest by new experts.
Further, I place a lot of importance and emphasis on how the wealth of important initiatives by the European Commission and beyond is communicated with a wider audience through our newly launched website (http://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking). The website is still at its early stages of development and we urge all relevant stakeholders to send information to the Commission about the work they conduct on this crucial issue.
Ü Eurasylum: An effective EU policy on the fight against trafficking must draw from a range of different policy fields, such as police and judicial cooperation, protection of human rights, external relations, migration policies and social and labour law. Your role as EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator is to ensure coherence between all these policy fields. Can you discuss some of the anticipated challenges in adopting such a multidisciplinary policy approach to THB at the EU level, and the means and methods through which you intend to address any such challenges?
Ü Dr Myria Vassiliadou: Certainly my biggest responsibility and at the same challenge is to ensure this coherence. Indeed, it is often the case that important initiatives undertaken under different policy areas are not as well coordinated as they could be. For example, we are used to treating trafficking in human beings as part of our work on law enforcement within the context of organized crime and the same could be said for many of the Member States. We now realize that this widespread phenomenon cannot be treated in isolation and certainly not without direct discussions on various other policies and legislation.
For example, the Commission has funded many studies to better identify victims of labour exploitation and on ways to improve the investigation and prosecution of cases. But the reality is that only few cases of labour exploitation are prosecuted and even less offenders are convicted. We need to intensify the links amongst all relevant actors from border guards to health officials and ensure they are on board in this effort and that they are clear on the value and ways of working closely together in this area. You will agree that creating the processes and the environment for that to happen is a big challenge, and one I am very committed to undertaking.
We always say that ‘we need to be ahead of traffickers’ and that is certainly part of the challenge. For example, the EU needs to be alert on new emerging trends on human trafficking. The Hungarian Presidency recently addressed the issue of new forms of human trafficking, which made it clear that the exploitation for the purpose of begging and criminal activities is treated differently in Member States. That is certainly something we are identifying as a challenge to deal with.
Another example I could give relates to comparable data from Member States on human trafficking. The Commission is in the process of setting up a method using the experience from previously EC funded studies to select common indicators and gradually start collecting data. This could potentially enable us to have better and more reliable information on the scale of the problem in the Member States, some important trends, and inevitably better identify appropriate actions.
Ü Eurasylum: The fight against trafficking in human beings has ascended considerably the EU policy agenda since the early 2000s, culminating in the recent adoption of the Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims. The new Directive, which builds upon the 2000 United Nations Protocol on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on action against trafficking in human beings, will facilitate action on different fronts, including criminal law provisions, prosecution of offenders, victims’ rights in criminal proceedings, victims’ support, prevention and monitoring. Can you discuss, briefly, the anticipated benefits and added value of the new Directive in terms of enhanced EU coordinated action against trafficking in human beings?
Ü Dr Myria Vassiliadou: The 2000 UN Protocol and the 2005 Council of Europe Convention are fundamental instruments in our joint efforts to address trafficking in human beings.
The newly adopted Directive, addressed directly to the Member States, incorporates important criminal law provisions such as a common definition of the crime, as well as aggravating circumstances, higher penalties and the principle of non-punishment of the victims for unlawful activities – such as the use of false documents – in which they have been involved when subjected to traffickers.
It further demonstrates the EU’s commitment to punish perpetrators in a more severe, uniform way by establishing, among others, the possibility to prosecute EU nationals for crimes committed in other countries and to use investigative tools typical for fighting organised crime such as phone tapping and tracing proceeds of crime.
The Directive ensures a stronger protection of victims, and a clear monitoring of the implementation of the measures foreseen with the establishment of National Rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms. These independent bodies will have further tasks including giving advice and addressing recommendations to governments.
The Directive provides for specific treatment of particularly vulnerable victims aimed at preventing secondary victimisation (no visual contact with the defendant), no questioning on private life, no unnecessary repetition of the testimony, etc). It also provides for police protection of victims, and legal counselling to enable victims to claim compensation. Special protective measures are envisaged for children (such as holding interviews in a friendly environment).
Victims’ support includes national mechanisms for early identification and assistance to victims, based on cooperation between law enforcement and civil society organisations, providing victims with shelters, medical and psychological assistance, information and interpretation services. A victim is to be treated as such as soon as there is an indication that she/he has been trafficked and will be provided with assistance before, during and after criminal proceedings.
Prevention aspects cover measures discouraging the demand that fosters trafficking as well as awareness raising and trainings aimed at the officials likely to come into contact with victims, and potential victims to warn them about the risks of falling prey to traffickers.
This Directive clearly shows the political commitement of all EU Member States to join efforts in tackling this devastaing phenomenon in a comprehensive manner. I am therefore confident that although my tasks are very challenging, there is a keen willingness by all stakeholders to support in this direction.