Switzerland supports the victims of human trafficking

Article, 18.10.2016

Europe has appealed for international action against trafficking in humans on 18 October every year since 2007. Switzerland is also committed to the fight against human trafficking through its enlargement contribution. It is supporting Bulgaria and Romania with their efforts aimed at prevention, victim protection, reintegration and improving criminal prosecution.

Prevention campaign for victims of human trafficking in Romania. © SDC/ANITP

Human trafficking affects various sections of the population and takes a number of forms. It concerns both men and women as well as children. There are several types of human trafficking and it occurs, for example, as sexual exploitation, forced labour or trade in human organs. 

The 2015 Eurostat report indicated that around 80% of victims are female and the most common type of exploitation is of a sexual nature (approx. 70%). Most victims also come from Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. People from poor socio-economic backgrounds, migrants and members of minority groups are at particular risk. According to Eurostat, the EU states reported over 30,000 cases between 2010–12. The real figure is nevertheless estimated to be higher. Human trafficking is an international phenomenon which Switzerland is also combating resolutely. 

Switzerland is involved in the following measures as part of the enlargement contribution projects in the field of human trafficking: 

  • Identification
    Victims rarely identify themselves as such but often display certain distinctive traits. They have signs of abuse or do not possess identification documents. 

  • Victim protection
    The victims of human trafficking have generally suffered psychological and physical abuse. They are temporarily taken in, given care and support and receive medical help and legal assistance.

  • Repatriation and reintegration
    This involves providing advice and support on the path back to normal life without violence.

  • Prevention
    Ethnic minorities especially are a key target group of campaigns as marginalised social groups are at particular risk of falling into the clutches of human traffickers. 

Switzerland also supports projects in both countries that focus on improving criminal prosecution and ensuring more efficient police cooperation, thus curbing human trafficking indirectly. For example, there is a project concerning the criminal prosecution of human trafficking and organised crime in Bulgaria. A project in Romania seeks to enhance police cooperation between Romania and Switzerland as the destination or transit country. All projects are being implemented in close cooperation with the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities. 

Focus on groups particularly at risk

5% to 10% of the population of Bulgaria and Romania consists of Roma, who are at particular risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Switzerland therefore supports projects fostering their social integration in particular municipalities in these countries. The aim is to provide them with easier access to education and the healthcare system. This offers the Roma people better social and economic prospects over the long-term and makes them less susceptible to falling victim to human trafficking.

What is human trafficking?

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. The protocol entered into force in Switzerland on 26 November 2006.

According to Eurostat and the Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, it usually concerns sexual exploitation, forced labour or the removal of human organs. A correlation frequently exists between human trafficking and migration as victims are more vulnerable outside of their native country and possess inadequate information or access to the legal system. The perpetrators also exploit situations – such as the victims’ poverty and lack of future prospects – to lure them to a foreign country with false promises of employment or marriage. Once they arrive in the destination country, the victims are forced into a relationship of dependency  through coercion or violence and are exploited.

Switzerland is a destination and transit country for human trafficking. The Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants of the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) indicates that human trafficking in Switzerland is often carried out by individual perpetrators or small, sometimes family-run, groups. Human trafficking has been a punishable offence in Switzerland since 1 December 2006 under the Swiss Criminal Code through Art. 182. Perpetrators can expect custodial sentences of up to 20 years. Victims are entitled to medical, psychological, social, financial and legal support under the Swiss Victim Support Act.