News/Belgium: Belgium faces rising tide of prostitutes

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Subject: News/Belgium: Belgium faces rising tide of prostitutes
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Nov 18 1999 - 21:24:06 EST


Belgium faces rising tide of prostitutes
By Michelle Carlile

BRUSSELS, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Sara laughs self-mockingly as she recalls her
naivete in paying traffickers $5,000 to smuggle her out of Albania to a new
life of prosperity abroad.

It was an adventure that was to end brutally.

On the streets of Brussels she was forced to work as a prostitute for her
pimp-boyfriend who demanded the equivalent of $500 in earnings a day and
beat her if she failed to deliver.

She now lives with an ex-client and works long hours for little money in a
bakery and says that all the young Albanian women working on the streets of
Brussels are controlled and badly treated by pimps who take most of their
earnings.

``He would beat me until my face was black and blue,'' said the attractive,
fine-featured 22-year-old. ``When I finally built up the courage to leave,
he said he would kidnap my sister in Albania and bring her here to be a
prostitute.''

Sara's story can be heard from many other young women who walk the streets
of Europe's capital.

They are part of a growing wave of victims of human trafficking in the wake
of the Kosovo crisis that is alarming authorities in Belgium and beyond.

Christian Van Vassenhoven, a senior Brussels police officer, estimates that
as many as half of the foreign prostitutes who work in Brussels are Albanian.

They are the largest contingent of women from behind what was the Iron
Curtain who are being shipped in by traffickers.

ALBANIAN MEN AT HEART OF CRIME

Eric Van der Sypt is a public prosecutor who has specialised in the
problem. As Europe ponders its expansion to the east, he says criminal
clans have already made it.

``A new phenomenon is of Albanian men selling women from Albania and
Chechnya, and even Belgian girls. It appears that Albanian criminal groups
and clans are making links with Bulgarian organisations.''

Several hundred women work as prostitutes in Brussels -- either on
pavements or in shop windows in the seedy red light district near the
city's Gare du Nord.

Van der Sypt estimates that some 95 percent of the young Albanian women
engaged in prostitution in Brussels did not know they were being brought
here for this purpose, he adds.

``Some of the girls are abducted, some have been made false promises of
marriage or of work, whatever, and once they get into Italy they are forced
to work as a prostitute,'' he told Reuters Television News.

And the problem is getting worse.

Since the war in Kosovo, police say all the women from Albania working on
the streets have claimed Kosovo refugee status.

Traffickers tell the women to declare themselves as Kosovan in order to
receive political asylum status.

``They all claim to come from Kosovo,'' says one Brussels police detective
ironically. ``But they don't. They don't even know what the currency is in
Kosovo.''

ALBANIAN PROSTITUTES ON THE RISE

Police working at Saint Josse-Ten-Noode station in the heart of the red
light district have seen a steady rise in the presence of Albanian women
over the last two years.

Many who are as young as 14 or 15 years old now constitute around 50
percent of the foreign prostitutes working in Brussels.

Albanian women, who according to Van der Sypt see up to 15 clients a day,
meet their pimps several times a day to hand over their earnings.

Most demand a minimum $500 a day from each woman they control but police
have even heard about demands for $1000 a day.

The emergency is felt all the more strongly by Anne Vauthier, a
co-ordinator at Pag-asa, a Brussels-based organisation that helps victims
of human trafficking who have been forced into prostitution.

Since 1998 the majority of her clients have been Albanian.

``In all cases violence is used against the women by pimps and traffickers.
This can involve knives and cigarette burns. I've even heard about one
woman who was shot to set an example to others,'' she said.

In spite of beatings and torture, Vauthier says many of the young women
remain emotionally attached to their pimps.

``The man tells the woman: 'I'm in love with you. I want to marry you, we
will go to another country we will make a new life together,''' she says.

``But after one or two months the girl realises that it's money and not
love that the man is after. By then, she's working the streets.''

SUPPORT FOR VICTIMS

Recognising that victims are caught in a no win situation between
exploiters and authorities, Belgium introduced a law in 1995 against the
trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual and economic
exploitation.

Two Ministerial Circulars of July 1994 and January 1997 established a
special system which grants victims temporary residence of 45 days on the
condition that they leave the abusive world they are in.

In that period, victims receive support and protection and are given the
opportunity to either go back to their country of origin or to collaborate
with authorities against the person or network that has exploited them.

The victims get the chance to gain permanent residence and the police get a
clear shot at the criminals.

In the last few years, Albanian gangsters have been brought to trial on the
basis of victims' declarations.

But local officials say that for every criminal brought to justice, several
more take their place. And meanwhile the number of victims is rising.


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