Every year hundreds of Bulgarians go to work abroad in the hope of higher pay and a better quality of life. There are some who succeed, but there are others who fall into the snare of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.
According to the International Labour Organization, the ILO, the victims of labour exploitation number 21 million globally. In Southeastern Europe, one in four people (per 1,000) are lured into the trap of forced labour. This “modern-day slavery” as it is termed, is a problem that runs deep. The network of this criminal activity is massive, running to at least two countries.
“Human trafficking for labour exploitation is a serious human rights violation, an organized criminal activity, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” says Nikola Kondev, coordinator of the “Programme for the prevention of human trafficking and for the identification, support, return and reintegration of victims of trafficking”. “With this kind of trafficking the victims work under conditions of slave labour in sectors such as construction, the hotel industry and different kinds of services, for example housework etc. The annual revenues from human trafficking for labour exploitation are estimated at 3.5 billion euro globally, according to Europol data. Trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation affects every corner of the planet, including Bulgaria and the other EU members, as well as the Swiss Confederation.”
In fact, Switzerland allocated 2 million Swiss francs to support the efforts of the Bulgarian government and the NGO sector towards stemming the flow of people, potential victims of human trafficking, and raising public awareness of the problem. For three years the “Animus Association” Foundation has been organizing awareness campaigns aiming to make people looking for work abroad wary of potential risks. “If you take up a job abroad, don’t take the bait! Working abroad may prove to be a snare!” - goes the slogan.
Psychologist Nadia Kozhuharova, coordinator of the initiative explains:
“Our campaign aims to make as many people as possible aware of their rights and of the existing dangers of being ensnared into an exploitation situation – when they are not paid for their work, their personal documents are taken from them and they live under extremely harsh conditions. The “human trafficking” problem is a very serious one for Bulgaria. According to data provided by our partners from West European countries, Bulgarians form the biggest group among the identified victims of trafficking. Many people from Bulgaria go to work abroad – we each know at least one person who works outside the country. But now, in summer, the problem is even bigger because of the higher demand for low-skilled seasonal work. This is a season when many Bulgarians are looking for ways to make more money to get them through winter. Our aim is not to stop them from seeking their fortune and making a living, our aim is to inform them and to show them how to uphold their rights.”
“Animus” conducted a social experiment – they published an enticing job offer for picking “green caviar” (the Bulgarian equivalent of “red herring”) in Denmark with a good salary, posted by a popular job website. 150 people responded. They were all sent an email, describing all warning signs that a given job offer is a scam: unrealistically high pay, no requirements with regard to age, skills or work experience, no requirement for language proficiency, no address of the company, request for advance payment for travel expenses and documents processing.
“Many of the people wrote us that they had had their suspicions, nonetheless they had decided to take a shot. And it is this “nonetheless” that is the crucial moment when people take a risk, duped by their own desire for a better life and choose to ignore the risks and their intuition. Our idea was to come in direct contact with our target group – people with a low level of education, people who do not know foreign languages and who are looking for low-skilled work abroad,” Nadia Kozhuharova says. Thanks to the partnership with Bulgarian Posts and with a job website, the awareness campaign has received extensive coverage and has been able to reach out to the smallest towns and villages in the country where the risks of ensnarement are high.
English version: Milena Daynova