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AFP
September 21, 2020

Romania’s trafficking victims robbed of justice

World

AFP
September 21, 2020

BUCHAREST: “I want him to pay for everything I’ ve suffered,” says a short, frail 24-year-old Romanian who was forced into prostitution by a man who duped her.

The man with whom she fell in love trafficked her in Romania and then to Austria before she managed to escape. “Once he hit me with a chair and almost killed me”, another 31-year-old victim tells AFP, adding that the experience pushed her “to the brink of suicide”.

Both women are housed in a shelter for trafficking victims in northeastern Romania and are awaiting the start of proceedings against the men who passed them around. But their wait may be in vain, given the impunity that many perpetrators seem to enjoy in Romania.

On a national level, the number of alleged traffickers sent to court dropped from 400 in 2018 to 347 last year. AFP gained access to hundreds of pages of judicial documents and interviewed victims, prosecutors and lawyers in different regions.

The drawbacks were apparent even in the high-profile “Tandarei” case, which spanned the UK and Romania. In one of the largest child trafficking rings uncovered in Europe, more than 100 people were convicted in the UK over an operation in which dozens of minors were forced to beg and steal. But in Romania all those charged were acquitted last year after an almost decade-long trial.

The Romanian judges complained about the investigation led by the anti-mafia prosecutors’ department (DIICOT), saying a lot of it was “accusations based on hearsay”, while leads on alleged bribes paid to local police were not followed up.

In its latest report about trafficking in Romania, the US State Department said “widespread complicity and the failure to incriminate officials hampered effective law enforcement”.

“Trafficking networks have vast sums of money which often allows them to buy impunity,” Silvia Tabusca, director of the Center for Human Rights and Migration, told AFP. DIICOT prosecutors say that in some cases “officials from banks or town halls as well as police officers have offered protection” to trafficking rings.