Turkey launches campaign to tackle modern slavery

Turkey has launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking, as part of its counter-trafficking efforts.

The campaign, titled "React to Human Trafficking, Don't Be Indifferent!" is part a project funded by the European Commission, implemented in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Turkey Office and the Interior Ministry's directorate generals for external relations and the European Union. The Foreign Ministry hosted a press conference to launch the campaign yesterday, while the "2007 Turkey Counter-trafficking Report," was also released as part of the campaign. "Human trafficking is a problem that has gone beyond international borders. With this campaign, it is once again emphasized that human trafficking is the new form of slavery in our modern day, and the most severe violation of human rights.

The purpose behind this widespread promotion of the “157” free helpline is to encourage people to save the victims of human trafficking,” Interior Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Zekeriya Şarbak said at the press conference.
Maurizio Busatti, chief of the IOM Turkey Office, and Melih Ulueren, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Migration, Asylum and Visa, as well as senior executives from the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey, also participated in the launch of the campaign.
Defining human trafficking as a “haunting form of slavery,” Ulueren emphasized importance of not confusing human trafficking with human smuggling, noting that one party is always exploited by force when the issue is human trafficking.
“This is not understandable in regard to either our national values or our culture. We are determined to struggle [against this],” Ulueren said.
Turkey is one of the major destination countries for human trafficking due to its geographical location and higher level of prosperity as compared to its neighboring countries. Although human trafficking in Turkey mostly involves the sexual exploitation of women, the strategy to fight human trafficking unveiled by yesterday covers all forms of human trafficking.
In this regard, Turkey has taken legal and administrative measures to combat human trafficking and has assumed a victim-oriented approach to tackle the problem. The IOM and Turkish government have been implementing projects in cooperation to fight the contemporary global phenomenon.
The two-year, 3 million euro campaign launched yesterday envisages the production of a short promotional TV film and radio spot titled “React to Human Trafficking, Don’t Be Indifferent!,” to be broadcast on television and radio channels nationwide. The promotional film and radio spot will give information on the crime of human trafficking and focus attentions on Turkey’s 157 Emergency Helpline for the rescue of human trafficking victims. The expected outcome of raising public awareness is an increased number of rescued and identified human trafficking victims via the 157 emergency helpline. In addition to broadcasting the television and radio spots, the campaign also aims to distribute and display informative posters and panels, as well as 157 hotline promotion leaflets, throughout Turkey.
The “2007 Counter-trafficking Report” was prepared at the end of 2007 by a technical drafting committee established with the participation of units from the Justice Ministry, the Human Resource Development Foundation, the Women’s Solidarity Foundation and the IOM.
The report highlights recent developments in fighting human trafficking in Turkey, in particular providing data of victims rescued and assisted, with a downward trend compared to the previous year. It also shows how enforcement of recently enacted articles of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) is by now bearing fruit with an increasing number of convictions. The report also outlines an improved national capacity to run shelters, but agrees that more work is needed to ensure long-term sustainability of service.
According to the report, Turkish enforcement forces identified 148 human trafficking victims in 2007. Most of the victims came from former Soviet countries, mainly from Moldova and Russia, most of whom are exposed to sexual abuse. In 2008, the number of victims of human trafficking was 75, mostly from Moldova, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Ulueren said they were as of yet unable to determine the reason for the decrease in the number of victims rescued and assisted. “It is guessed that the problem’s dimensions are very big. It [human trafficking efforts] constantly changes shells. Either our state has been successful or they have succeeded in not getting caught. We cannot be sure, but I hope that the first option is correct. We believe that impeding the progress of the crime and increasing its dissuasiveness bore fruit,” Ulueren said in response.
Last month, the US State Department gave a Tier-2 rating to Turkey, despite efforts over the last year to combat human trafficking.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2008, introduced to the public by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, D.C., underlined the Turkish government had “significantly increased its law enforcement response in 2007 by convicting and punishing more traffickers.”
One of the significant efforts commended in the report was an article in the revised TCK, which entered into force in June 2005. “The Government of Turkey demonstrated strong anti-trafficking law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts during the reporting period. Article 80 of the Penal Code prohibits trafficking for both sexual exploitation and forced labor, and prescribes penalties of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with prescribed penalties for other grave crimes, such as sexual assault,” it said.
“The government reported convicting four traffickers during 2007 under its recently amended Article 80, but most prosecutions -- initiated before the Article 80 amendment -- continued under Article 227, the previous primary anti-trafficking statute. In addition to the four Article 80 convictions, the government, in 2007, prosecuted 160 suspects and convicted 121 trafficking offenders, a dramatic increase from the 36 convicted in 2006,” the report also noted.
Ulueren referred to the same point, saying that whenever one sees a report of conviction under the Article 80, then he should also note that Turkey’s efforts are bringing returns.
For some, the numbers of 148 or 75 identified human trafficking victims may not mean anything, but one should keep in mind the starfish story -- starfish get washed up on the beach, and while you might not be able to throw them all back into the sea, for the few that you can throw back, the effort makes a huge difference -- while assessing Turkey’s efforts on this issue.