Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

Authorities in the UK and Romania have arrested 24 people, cracking a syndicate that trafficked low income Romanian girls into the UK, Ireland and Germany for sex work.

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Scottish police in the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, 27 June 2020. Archive photo: EPA-EFE/STRINGER

Romanian prosecutors on Wednesday announced the dismantling of a ring that recruited young girls who were sexually exploited in Romania until they turned 18 and then trafficked to Western Europe. Destinations included the UK, Ireland and Germany, where their sexual exploitation continued.

“There were also cases in which the victims were transferred to [other] EU countries,” prosecutors said in a statement. The girls travelled to these countries with fake ID documents.

The bust is a result of a joint operation involving the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, Eurojust, the Scottish police, Europol and Romanian embassy officials in London. 

Fourteen suspects have been arrested and are being interrogated in Romania. The UK has arrested another three alleged members of the ring, and seven more suspected of complicity in human and child trafficking, pimping and money laundering.

The syndicate was constituted in Romania in 2009. Twenty eight people were part of the gang, which targeted “minors from unprivileged circles, low income or disorganized families”.

The girls were lured through the so-called loverboy method, where one of the traffickers seduces the targeted victims and pretends to be their boyfriend to lure them into prostitution.

“The victims were exploited with the false promise that the money they obtained from the exercise of prostitution would be invested in real estate and other goods they [the girls] would own together with their life partners [the loverboys],” the Romanian prosecutors’ statement said.

While they performed sexual work in the foreign countries, the girls were closely monitored by a gang leader.

Romania and Ireland are the only EU countries listed in the so-called Tier 2-Watch List of the US Government’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, due to the high incidence – by European standards – of human trafficking and their shortcomings in addressing the problem. Other EU countries were classified as Tier 1 or as simply Tier 2.

Shortly after the publication of the US government’s report last June, US ambassador to Romania Adrian Zuckerman criticised the record of the previous government in Romania. “The report found that last year, under the former government, anti-trafficking enforcement efforts were weakened, trafficking prosecutions and convictions decreased and care for victims was lacking,” he said.

But Zuckerman added that he was “confident in this government’s commitment to eradicating this scourge from Romania” despite the “legacy of policies, corruption, and criminal networks that hinder their every move.”

The current National Liberal Party government came into power in October last year through a no-confidence vote against the former Social Democratic government, which was accused of weakening the rule of law and the fight against corruption and other forms of crime.

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