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Trafficking of women the Balkan Red Road


Trafficking of women: the Balkan Red Road
Tens of thousands of Eastern European women are falling victim to the
Balkan sex trade.

Trafficking of women: the Balkan Red Road

A special investigation realizad by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in 2003.

Tens of thousands of Eastern European women are falling victim to the Balkan sex trade.

       Marcu scratches his unshaven face and stares intently out of the window at the
 queue of battered tankers, trucks and cars beyond. He's nervous, tired and desperate.
 Sitting in a small café on the Greek-Bulgarian border, he hesitates over his coffee
 before asking us a favour, a big favour.

       "Look, I know you're Romanians. May I ask you to take these two girls in your car
 and drive them over to Greece?" he said, pointing to a car outside where a couple of
 young girls are sitting in the back seat. He's figured out where we're from by the plates
 on our vehicle.

       "They're from Brasov [a town in central Romania] and need to get to Thessaloniki
 [northern Greece]. I'll pay you good money. Their papers are OK," he added

       Marcu tells us he is trying to make a living by trafficking the two girls. "I'll find
 them good positions in a club in Thessaloniki. I have an address and I'll get good
 money from this. You know how hard it is to make a living nowadays. The girls are poor
 too, they're sisters and their parents are drunkards," he said.

       "Greece is a much better future for them. I arrived here with them by bus but
 now I'm afraid to cross the border together with them because I heard the Greek
 custom officers are very suspicious and can stop us from entering."

       Leaning over the table, Marcu began to look worried, "Please help me, take the
 two girls in your car and then we'll meet on the other side and you'll get some easy

       "Why don't you just take a cab across?" we asked.
      "No, I don't want to hire a cab because these guys are crooks, they can rob me,"
he snapped back.

      Marcu was getting edgy and wanted us to do a deal to take the girls across and
quickly. Leaving the coffee shop, he followed, shuffling along to our car. We were about
to talk to him further when, nervously examining our distinctive Romanian Dacia, he
noticed we had made a mistake. On the back seat were our cameras and equipment:
our cover was well and truly blown.

      He didn't look back as he sprinted away down the road, getting into his car and
disappearing round a bend into Bulgaria. He will no doubt be back to try another day.

      Marcu is one of the hundreds of traffickers working across this and many other
borders in the Balkans, smuggling not guns, drugs or stolen cars but women.


      In November 2002, an the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
OSCE, conference on the trafficking of human beings estimated that some 200,000
women in the Balkans had fallen victim to a smuggling network that extends across the
region into the European Union.

      According to the latest figures from International Organisation for Migration, IOM,
the four biggest exporters of girls to Western Europe are Moldova, Romania, Ukraine
and Russia.

      Romania is the nexus of the trade for two reasons: its geographic location makes
it a good transit country and the presence of large numbers of impoverished women
desperate to make money provide a ready source of trafficking victims.

      Two main smuggling routes begin here: one going north into Hungary, southwest
through the former Yugoslavia to Albania and then across the Adriatic by speedboat to
Italy; the other runs directly south, through Bulgaria to Greece.

      With the first route, girls are taken to Romanian cities such as Bucharest and
Timisoara, near the Serbian border. Many are then sold to Serbian gangs who move
them south, putting them to work as prostitutes in Belgrade or selling them to criminal
groups in Bosnia, Kosovo or Montenegro. Some will be smuggled into Albania, and then
on to Italy and other European countries.
      The second route runs from Romania directly south through Bulgaria to Greece.
In Bulgaria, some of the girls are sold to gangs who smuggle them into Macedonia, then
Albania and on to Italy.

      The trade is a coalition of interests that crosses ethnic divides. Well-organised
groups, familiar to each other from drugs or gun deals, trade across frontiers, as do
lone traffickers.

      War has made the Balkans a traffickers dream. Their illicit trade has been able to
flourish as a result of the chaos of the last decade, which has weakened border controls
and fractured and impoverished communities that were once held together by rigid
moral codes.

      Throughout the Balkans, checkpoints are badly policed by often corrupt officials,
well used to taking bribes as guns and drugs moved through the region during the
wars. Forged or stolen passports are easily available and visa regulations are flouted.

      The wars have has also created a market for girls inside the Balkans. The influx of
cash from the international community policing the peace in Bosnia, Kosovo and
Macedonia has swelled the trade in prostitution. One United Nations Mission in Kosovo,
UNMIK, source told IWPR in August that the market is now so developed that many of
the girls smuggled into the protectorate now willingly work as prostitutes. Their profits
are good, their pimps are treating them decently and, they say, it's " better than
returning to Moldova", the source said.

      Of the 826 girls helped by IOM's projects in the region from May 2001 to
December 2002, 590 - 77 per cent - were reportedly destined for either Kosovo, Bosnia
or Montenegro.

      There are several methods of recruiting girls. One is through newspaper
advertisements promising menial jobs such as waitressing in Western Europe. Others
are attracted by promises of marriage to EU nationals.

      After luring the girls, the traffickers seize their passports, then take them to
major regional sex trade centres, where they are forced to work as prostitutes.

      Some escape from their captors. We met several girls who had managed to flee.
But a number of those who do are often recaptured by the traffickers or are hounded by
them when they seek refuge in womens' shelters.
      In a major investigation, involving IWPR reporters in eight Balkan countries, we
set out to explore this massive trade in people across the region. Our teams followed
the trafficking routes, going from Romania, south into Bulgaria and Greece, across to
Albania and then north through former Yugoslavia.

      We visited clubs, bars, hotels and brothels, speaking with the traffickers, the
pimps, the authorities and the girls themselves, to build up a picture of how this cross-
border network of criminal gangs smuggling women operates.


      At the Kulata border crossing between Greece and Bulgaria, dozens of taxis line
up on the Bulgarian side of the frontier. According to a Bulgarian police source, some of
the vehicles are waiting to ferry Greek traffickers to two local towns, Sandanski and
Petrich, which have become regional sex trade centres - market places for girls from all
over the Balkans and the former Soviet Union who are bought and sold with impunity.
Some are destined to be smuggled to Italy and other EU countries, but the majority are
purchased by nightclub owners from northern Greece.

      In a bitter twist of irony, Sandanski is also well known for being the birthplace of
the world's most renowned slave, Spartacus. But today's young slaves are not likely to
rebel against their captors. They're too weak, too far away from home and become
involved in a highly organised criminal trade that leaves them little opportunity to

      Greek police sources have told IWPR that the transfer of the women from Bulgaria
to Greece is well established, controlled by a tight-knit group of criminals. The officers
say that a man well known to them in Sandanski controls the whole enterprise -
including the taxi firms used by traffickers to smuggle girls over the border - and is
either tolerated or actively protected by Bulgarian law enforcers.

      In April, our team of journalists, posing as potential clients, questioned taxi
drivers in both Sandanski and Petrich about buying women in the area. Initially reticent,
the drivers soon began talking, saying they could put us in touch with people who could
"solve our problem".

      The prices charged for the girls depend on their age and experience. On average,
they are sold for between 2,500 and 3,000 euro. "If the girl is fresh, very young and
not used, the price is higher," one trafficker told us.
      The cost and number of women being smuggled into Greece is expected to rise
during next year's Olympics in Athens, with traffickers apparently calculating that the
prostitution business will be brisk.

      The traffickers are highly organised. They go to great lengths to check out the
identity of clients in order to avoid police traps; possess high-tech instruments such as
communication encryption software that prevents police tracking their mobile phones;
and even run illegal TV stations broadcasting porn and advertising brothels.


      On the outskirts of a desperately poor Albanian village, where donkeys stacked
high with fire wood crawled along potholed streets, we witnessed the bizarre sight of
gleaming Audis, Mercedes and even the odd Lamborghini cruising past.

      In this impoverished country, this sort of conspicuous wealth is associated with
organised crime, which has filled the vacuum left by the communists and spread its
tentacles throughout Europe. In June, the World Markets Research Centre said in a
report that Albanian mafia groups have established a reputation in continental Europe
as being amongst the most efficient drugs pushers and people smugglers on the

      Over the past five years, successive Albanian interior ministers, and two chief
prosecutors, have admitted that Albania is a transit country for prostitutes on their way
to Western Europe and that significant numbers of Albanian girls were being coerced
into the trade.

      In this strongly conservative society, prostitution is beyond the pale, but
trafficking girls across to Italy and other EU countries is not.

      The IOM's 2001 Victims of Trafficking in the Balkans report notes that the
smuggling of girls through Albania "is primarily orientated" to the EU through its
Adriatic ports of Vlore and Durres.

      Once in Italy, the girls continue to run considerable risks. The Italian ministry of
interior reported in 2001 that 168 foreign prostitutes had been murdered, mainly by
their pimps. The majority of the former were either Albanian or Nigerian.

      The trafficking of Albanian girls into Italy has become so bad that it prompted a
change in Italian legislation in 1998. Article 18 of the Aliens Law provided for a care
programme - run by over 200 NGOs with the Italian ministry for equal opportunities -
for those brought into the country for sexual exploitation. Figures from the programme
from March to December 2000 show that 20 per cent of the girls that were helped came
from Albania.

      In the central Albanian town of Fier, three little metal huts with a few ancient
bunk beds and some desks provide shelter for girls that have managed to escape the
clutches of the traffickers.

      The facility was established by Colonel Xhavit Shala, a former senior police official
and presently serving in the statistics and analysis office in the interior ministry. He
raised 18,000 US dollars from local businesses to fund the project when the
government refused to help.

      Shala has held talks with local leaders, teachers, business people and residents to
explain how the trafficking trade is wrecking village life in the country.

      Speaking to IWPR, he was adamant that if trafficking through and from Albania is
to be tackled and locally trafficked girls are to be reintegrated back into society then it
will require a massive change of heart, particularly from the girls' families.

      "Albanians need to learn to treat these women as victims and not prostitutes. We
tell families that it is not only their daughters' responsibility for falling into prostitution
but their own," he said.

      "Statistic's show that their daughters were deceived into becoming prostitutes.
We ask them why their families permitted them to be deceived."

      Such is the fear of falling victim to trafficking that many girls are refusing to go to
school. Save the Children reported in 2001 that "in remote areas, where pupils may
have to walk for over an hour to get to school, research has discovered that as many as
90 per cent of girls no longer receive a high school education". One of the main factors
was parents' concern that their children would be abducted on the way to class.

      People smuggling has become so endemic in Albania that even the police are
implicated. During the first five months of 2002, 102 officers were identified as being
involved in the trade following a major police crackdown that was prompted by
international pressure to stem the tide of girls reaching Europe. Sixteen of the suspects
have been jailed, 12 transferred to other jobs and 15 given minor punishments,
according to the Albanian interior ministry.
      The extent of human trafficking from Albania is revealed in a secret internal
government report seen by IWPR. According to the document, more than 100,000
Albanians were smuggled out of the country between 1993-2001. How many have
ended up as prostitutes across Europe is hard to establish. But evidence from the
streets tells its own story. According to IOM's 2001 survey, the majority of prostitutes
in London's Soho area are either from Albania or Kosovo.


      We made our way north through Macedonia to Kumanovo along the picturesque
roads that climb high into Sharplanina mountains. Amid the town's busy streets, we
came across a jeweller whose trade seemed to be thriving. "So many women pass
through Kumanovo, so my business is safe," said the owner of the shop in the centre of
town. "I sell so many rings for women from Ukraine, Romania and Albania. Sometimes I
sell the jewelry to the man who is in charge of them. He needs to have beautiful women
so that he can do his business."

      If Romania is often the beginning of the trafficking journey and Albania the end,
one country, Macedonia, plays the role of a key mid point. It has more shared borders
than any other former Yugoslav republic and its mountainous, poorly patrolled borders
are ideal for traffickers. According to Kosovan law enforcement sources, the country's
frontier with the protectorate is probably the most porous in Europe.

      Sitting on a plastic chair in the baggy sports clothes provided by the centre that
rescued her, Julijana Sherban talks to the floor, red rimmed eyes peering out from
behind her long, dark hair.

      The 21-year-old Romanian girl doesn't want to say much. After what she's been
through, it's no surprise. But Julijana is lucky, she is one of the few in Macedonia to
have escaped the clutches of her pimp and testified against him in court, having been
placed on a witness protection programme. Surrounded by other girls in the shelter in
Skopje, she begins to tell her story.

      Her case reveals the enormous trade in women that runs through the town of
Tetevo and Valesta and Struga further south.

      Her pimp, Dilaver Bojku Leku, was convicted of soliciting in a court in Struga in
March and received a six-month jail sentence. Leku is thought to have controlled the
biggest prostitution ring in Macedonia, running 10 bars in the region, recruiting
Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian girls who had been sold on by several gangs on the
route from Romania through Serbia.
        "I was told that I would work in Greece, but I didn't expect they would sell me. I
was sold in Serbia a dozen times. I arrived in Macedonia in 2001, in Velesta, where I
stayed for five months working in Leku's bar, Expresso," Julijana told IWPR.

        In a public relations disaster for the Macedonian government, Leku escaped on
June 20 and fled to Montenegro where he was eventually caught and extradited on July
4. He is currently awaiting a retrial along with four others.

        The case has attracted the attention of the international community eager to see
the south Balkans crack down on organised crime and stop the flow of girls into the EU.
Lawrence Butler, the US ambassador to Macedonia, expressed serious misgivings about
the country's sentencing in prostitution cases earlier on this year. "The failure to
[impose long jail terms] opens new questions such as: are you afraid? Are you corrupt
or incompetent?" he said at the annual launch of the State Department's report on
human trafficking.


        One by one, the three girls start clapping their hands, begging for applause and
money after stripping naked in front of us. Welcome to The Dancer - a dingy, basement
strip joint in downtown Pristina.

        In the corner, a short, skinny woman bellows hoarsely at them to make more of
an effort to attract our attention.

        The night has just begun and we're the only clients in the bar. After a while the
fearsome looking madam comes to our table and asks us if we are enjoying the
striptease. Noticing our disapproving looks, she tells us that she knows we're not here
for the dance but for what she called "some fun with the girls".

        "It's 50 euro for one hour. It's safe. Nobody will enter the bar unannounced. The
local police won't make any problems," added the woman who introduces herself as

        Security is clearly an issue at The Dancer. The underground bar is like a small
fortress - no windows and reinforced doors. Near the entrance, hidden behind some
breeze blocks, sits a young boy who sells chewing gum and vets customers as they
come in.
      "Didn't you like the girls? Maybe this time they're not that good," he said as we
left the club." Frankly, I don't like them very much, either. Will you come here some
other time? We will have fresh girls soon. They're on their way from Ukraine."

      There are numerous such brothels and strip joints in Kosovo. The region is one of
the main destinations for the traffickers. But the girls aren't looking to entice locals -
they're here for the "internationals".

      The Kosovan economy is largely dependent on the presence of international
officials and troops in the protectorate. In towns like Pristina and Prizren, western-style
shops, restaurants and pubs have sprung up all over town to cater for the tastes and
pockets of the thousands of well-paid foreigners.

      Many ordinary Kosovans have been sucked into the local prostitution racket,
which the traffickers view as one of the most profitable in Europe.

      "The majority of people here earn their money from trafficking in drugs or
women. They know the routes very well, they know the mined zones and they go
through areas where KFOR never goes," a senior officer in the Kosovo Protection Force,
KFOR, told IWPR.

      "KFOR is not intervening because they don't want to risk a conflict and they're not
interested. Not long ago a rocket was launched against a UN checkpoint. The KFOR
guys are not from this area so they don't really care about what's going on."


      The KFOR source said the local Kosovan police are incapable of dealing with the
problem, claiming that some officers are running human trafficking operations.

      " I don't know if we can call them police. The locals become officers after
attending a three-month course in law enforcement. Afterwards, they're only interested
in boosting their salaries and showing off the uniforms, guns and cars that the
international community provided them," he said.

      Elsewhere in the Balkans, the policing problem is just as acute as in Kosovo. In
Bosnia, efforts to curb organised crime gangs and traffickers have been undermined by
premature changes to the international policing effort in the country, critics of the
authorities believe.
      In January this year, the UN's International Police Task force, IPTF, was replaced
by an EU-led police mission, EUPM.

      One thousand six hundred IPTF police were posted in some 200 locations
throughout the country to train, equip and monitor local officers. Latest figures from
August 2003 show that EUPM's presence is less conspicuous, with only 480 members
currently deployed around the country.

      Before the scale down in January, the IPTF coordinator for the Special Trafficking
Operations programme, John O'Reilly warned that trafficking gangs were stepping up
their activities, "The criminals are already bringing in new girls. Of all the bars we
closed, there's a number of them actually being renovated."

      Speaking with IWPR, O'Reilly was doubtful whether the EU force would be up to
the job of handling the scale of the human trafficking problem.

      "In my humble opinion it won't work. You've got the will but there is a lot of
corruption and a lot of people in important places don't want this to work," he said.

      The situation is similar in neighbouring Montenegro where a recent human
trafficking scandal involving a leading official has seriously embarrassed the

      In July, an OSCE commission was invited to investigate the alleged involvement
of the Montenegrin deputy state prosecutor Zoran Piperovic and three other officials in
people smuggling.

      Piperovic was arrested along with three others in November last year on suspicion
of involvement in human trafficking following revelations by a Moldovan woman who
escaped from a Montenegrin trafficking gang to a refuge. She claimed that Piperovic
had been involved in her incarceration, during which time she was drugged and raped.

      Piperovic and the three other men deny the charges.

      Controversially, the Montenegrin senior state prosecutor, Zoran Radonjic, ruled in
May that there were insufficient grounds for a prosecution, sparking a major public
outcry that prompted the authorities to invited the OSCE to pass judgment on the case.

      OSCE mission chief to Serbia and Montenegro Maurizio Massari said in July that
the Piperovic case "raised the issue of the ability of the Montenegrin legal system to
cope with the complexity of cases related to human trafficking".

      Leaving Pristina, we traveled first to Prizren in southern Kosovo and then on to
Qafa i Prushit on the Kosovo-Albanian border. According to out KFOR source, Qafa i
Prushit is a people- and drugs-trafficking hot spot. The route to the border point goes
through villages where the signs of the last war, the continuing tensions and new
wealth are all too apparent.

      Close to the border, in front of the newly built two-storey houses, sit freshly
polished Mercedes. Almost all bear Swiss plates. "Lots of the cars belong to the
Kosovars. Many of them moved to Switzerland during the conflict and now they come
back here to do their business, mainly in the field of organised crime," our KFOR source
told us.

      A few kilometres away from Qafa i Prushit lie the minefields. A dusty road cuts
through the deadly terrain. On either side, yellow triangles with the inscription "minas,
minas" and giant concrete structures, called "dragons teeth", which were put up by the
Serb forces to stop the movement of NATO tanks.

      Qafa i Prushit's UN checkpoint, guarded by only a few officers, is perched up on
hills dominating the area. The post's surveillance activities are assisted by UN mobile
patrols that put up roadblocks and search suspect cars in the valley below. Girls here
are being moved in both directions. According to the IOM, the majority are going to
Albania and then on to Italy, but others are moving into Kosovo and the buoyant
Pristina market place.

      Despite the UN efforts at Qafa i Prushit, the trafficking continues to grow partly
because the international and local police will not risk their lives by leaving the safety of
the road to go into the minefields.

      To the northeast lies another unguarded border that is regularly used by
traffickers between Kosovo and Montenegro. The crossing point goes through
mountains that soar as high as 2,600 metres. As in other parts of the Balkans, this
geography helps those trafficking people and makes tracking them extremely difficult.

      And the multinational nature of the traffic also makes the task of stopping the
flood of people particularly hard.

      "There is no linguistic, religious or any other problem among the criminals,"
Jacques Klein, the outgoing head of the UN Mission in Bosnia told IWPR shortly before
he stepped down in December 2002. "They have no dilemma dealing with each other -
it's a very sophisticated crime structure."

        By working together, Balkan criminals of different ethnicity create a secure
trafficking network through which profits and girls can be controlled. But some do
manage to escape.


        Not all the girls we met on our travels were controlled by pimps. In Bucharest, we
came across several who were working alone, having fled their captors. And in
Belgrade, we met with girls who continued to work in the city, after escaping from
Serbian traffickers.

        Vera is one such girl. Her modest downtown flat is basic, but clean. On the bed
lies a packet of condoms, in the corner a closet. Nothing else. She has no pimp, no ties.
The 22-year-old takes great pride in telling us how she, and her housemate, got here.

        "In March, I finally managed to run from the traffickers who held me in a house in
Novi Sad [a town north of Belgrade] after they had disappeared with our passports,"
she said. " I now have my own business. I place my adds in the newspapers and I
publish my mobile phone number. We are working for ourselves."

        Their relief was palpable, but they remain extremely wary.

        Neither would say where they had come from or where the traffickers were taking

        "The traffickers sold us, abused us and kept us locked up. Now we only have to
take care who our clients are," continued Vera. " We tell them it is the wrong number if
they ask us in Serbian. We have only foreign clients. Of course, the money would be
better if we'd take Serbians too but we are afraid they might be traffickers that try to
take us back."

        Recent clamp downs on organised crime following the murder of prime minister
Zoran Djindic in March is likely to have had some effect on the gang operations in

        One result of police action against prostitution has been to spread the problem
beyond central Belgrade. The 2002 OSCE report on human trafficking in the region
noted that "due to control and raids by the police, the number of bars has decreased
and part of the trafficking business has moved from the centre into the suburbs and
less obvious locations".

      In much of the Balkans, substantial amounts of international funds have been
directed at curbing trafficking, but Serbia has not fared as well in this regard.

      Nonetheless, NGO pressure here has kept the issue of trafficking on the political
agenda. In July 2001, the interior ministry allocated space for a shelter for trafficked
women and legislative changes increased penalties for traffickers.


      From Serbia, we traveled back to where we began, Romania. There we paid a visit
to Iana Matei, the director of the Reaching Out project, which provides a refuge for girls
who've managed to escape the clutches of the traffickers. So far, Matei and his
colleagues have managed to build a few apartments for the girls in the town of Pitesti -
100 km north of Bucharest - home to the massive, belching Dacia car plant.

      In this unappealing town many of the girls have found some respite. But the
exact location of the shelter has to be kept secret for fear that traffickers will hunt the
girls down.

      It's here that we met up again with Diana. Back in January, IWPR reported on an
undercover investigation into Romanian smugglers, in which our reporters bought her
from a Bucharest pimp for 400 US dollars. Just like Marcu, we could have taken Diana
down to the prostitution centres in the Balkans or sold her on to Serbian gangs in

      Then, she was cold, terrified, almost naked and starving. She had spent the
previous New Years Eve in Bucharest, chained to a dog cage.

      But now, with the shelter's help, she is making progress back to a relatively
normal life. She is sharing a flat with some other girls, learning how to look after herself
and how to live without fear.

      It will be a long road for Diana. The mental scars of years of physical and sexual
abuse by pimps and clients have taken their toll.

      Analysts agree that human trafficking through the Balkans is a major international
problem that will require a coordinated response from regional and Western European
governments and their respective law enforcement agencies.
      To this end, the EU set up a group of 20 independent experts in March to
recommend further actions on coordinating the fight against trafficking. The panel is
just one of several moves coming from last year's EU conference on combating the

      The conference recommended further coordination between EU member states on
legislation and policing, urging greater harmonisation of national laws, so that
traffickers face the same penalties in whichever member state they are caught. Brussels
has made funding available under the AGIS programme for police and judicial
cooperation across the EU to tackle the problem.

      Julie Bindel, a member of the EU panel and a researcher with the child and
women abuse unit at the University of North London, says that although Brussels is
looking hard into the issue, progress is slow, and concentrating on tightening and
coordinating EU law on the issue is not enough.

      "The problem starts mainly in the Balkans and the EU needs to be doing more in
the region. What legislative and funding changes there have been are pretty piecemeal,
and are only aimed at tackling things at one end of the chain," she said.

      "For example, the UK foreign office has provided some funds to compile a
database of all NGOs working on the human trafficking issue, and money has been
made available to tackle child prostitution but its still the case that there are less than
20 officers based at Charing Cross police station who deal specifically with human
trafficking and this is for the whole of London."

      As Balkans countries begin to eye up EU accession, many will have to do more to
tackle the traffickers if they are to stand a chance of ever gaining entry. The Treaty of
the European Union explicitly refers to trafficking of human beings and demands that
members comply with overall standards of policing and legislation on the issue. Right
now, few Balkan countries are even close to this.

      But there are signs that a regional approach to the problem is beginning to take

      In September 2002, the Romanian based Southeast European Cooperative
Initiative Centre for Combating Trans-Border Crime, SECI, launched the first regional
anti-human trafficking operation. Code-named MIRAGE, the initiative brought together
police forces from ten countries including Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia,
Macedonia, Greece and the UN Mission in Kosovo.
      By January 2003, SECI concluded in its report on the operation that 237 victims
of trafficking and 293 traffickers had been arrested after over 20,000 raids on
nightclubs, discos, restaurants and border crossing points in the Balkans.

      But while MIRAGE was a relative success, it did expose corrupt practices among
many Balkans police forces that go someway to underpinning the trade. Indeed,
numerous investigations during MIRAGE pointed to policemen being involved in
trafficking. It's a sobering assessment - and one that underlines the difficulties
governments face in tackling this terrible scourge.

      This report was coordinated by Paul Radu in Romania and compiled by David
Quin, IWPR's assistant investigations editor in London. The following contributed to the
research: Stefan Candea and Sorin Ozon in Romania, Julie Harbin and Nidzara
Ahmetasevic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gazmend Kapllani in Greece, Milorad Ivanovic in
Serbia, Kaca Krsmanovic and Boris Darmanovic in Montenegro, Zylyftar Bregu in
Albania, Zoran Jachev and Zaklina Gjorgjevic in Macedonia.

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