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Human trafficking a dangerous reality

Ukraine is extraordinarily vulnerable

Alla Galych's research is helpful in showing that human trafficking is a problem worth addressing. (Photo by Johnny Guatto)

In the movie The Whistleblower, an American police officer turned peacekeeper uncovers a sex trafficking operation in post-war Bosnia.

Although viewers want to believe this is just a movie, the sad truth is that trafficking in human beings is a very real problem in the world, a reality the people of Ukraine know too well.

“Since 1991, more than 110,000 Ukrainians have become victims to human trafficking,” said Alla Galych, an advocate for victims of human trafficking .

Citing research commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ukraine, she added, “This makes the Ukraine one of the largest suppliers of slave labour in Europe.”

Galych visited the University of Toronto’s Jacyk Program for the study of Ukraine and Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES) recently to present her talk, Trafficking in Human Beings in Ukraine: Latest Statistics, New Trends, Building the National Referral Mechanism.

The former project co-ordinator in the Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Galych said that while women and children are most often the victims of trafficking, the number of men being exploited is on the rise.

“A new trend in the gender structure of trafficking has been observed recently,” she said. “The number of men being trafficked has increased from 14 per cent in 2004 to almost 34 per cent in 2010.”

Generally, men are trafficked for the purpose of forced labour in places such as Russia and Turkey where they work on construction sites or in agriculture, usually without pay and in dire conditions. Women and minors are usually trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, participation in criminal activities, begging and even organ removal.

Unfortunately, prosecution rates don’t reflect the enormity of the trafficking problem.

In 2010, there were 337 criminal cases in the Ukraine with only 85 resulting in verdicts. However, Galych pointed out that a successful verdict doesn’t mean comparable punishment. 

“Most cases result in only a fine,” she said.

Svitlana Frunchak, program officer and Ukrainian programs manager at CERES, said Galych’s  work provides valuable documentation.

“The field of human trafficking, and particularly in eastern Europe, is very important as well as under-researched,” she said.

Recently, Galych was involved with establishing a framework, the National Referral Mechanism, designed to help the Ukrainian government identify and refer trafficked persons for assistance, protect their rights and ensure their access to justice.

She has also been working on a project called, Human Trafficking from the Former Eastern Bloc to Canada, with U of T alumna Natalya Timoshkina, a professor in Social Work at Lakehead University-Orillia. This project has a number of goals:  to assess human trafficking from the former Eastern Bloc to and through Canada; to determine how existing non-governmental organizations (NGO) are responding to the problem; and, to facilitate the establishment of partnerships between counter-trafficking NGOs in Canada, the United States and the former Eastern Bloc.

“Hopefully the work of professionals and activists like Alla Galych will spur interest in this field among academics as well as the public and, ultimately initiate some changes of the unfortunate situation described by Ms. Galych,” said Frunchak.