[Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia: Bosnia's corrupt elite grow fat on human cargo smuggled to West

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia: Bosnia's corrupt elite grow fat on human cargo smuggled to West
From: Jyothi Kanics (jyothi@odihr.osce.waw.pl)
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 09:53:28 EST


Bosnia's corrupt elite grow fat on
  human cargo smuggled to West 
  
  Should Europe seal its borders, or open them to a
quota of economic refugees? An Observer investigation
reveals how well- connected people-traffickers working
out of Sarajevo are raising the stakes in a 4 billion
trade
  
  {HYPERLINK
"http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Refugees_in_Britain
/"}Special report: refugees in Britain 
  
  Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor, in Sarajevo, Chris
Morris and Mahmut Kaya in Istanbul 
  Sunday January 28, 2001 
  
  Bag Wahab was one of the unlucky ones. On Friday the 26-year-
old Turk sat in the arrivals area at Sarajevo airport, surrounded by
police, his head bowed, close to tears. An agricultural labourer
and father of two children, he had sold his land and spent all his
savings to enter Europe as an illegal migrant.
Wahab fell at the first hurdle. As dozens of young men with similar
ambitions passed through immigration into Bosnia, jumping-off
point for the 'Sarajevo Route' into the EU, Wahab's lack of
education let him down. He thought he was arriving in a country
called Sarajevo, at a capital called Grozny. The State Border
Service informed him he would be sent home.
Like dozens of other young men from Tunisia and Turkey who had
passed through, their tickets and passports in order, and with
sufficient cash to be allowed to stay, Wahab had said he was a
tourist. Sitting in a corner of the departures lounge, his journey
over, he abandoned the dissimulation. 'I was trying to get to
France to work,' he told The Observer. 'I've already spent most of
my money paying a commission to come in. Now what I am going
to do? What is going to happen to me?'
Wahab is the exception rather than the rule. Half an hour later the
others who arrived from Istanbul with him were heading for an
unofficial rank of cabs that pull up on a verge just outside the
airport compound on the days the Turkish flight comes in,
specifically to carry migrants. Where they are taken next is
Sarajevo's biggest open secret. Those not taken by van or taxi
immediately to the Croatian border will spend a few days in a
hotel, among them the Alemko, a low, dilapidated, purple building
not far from the city centre. The Orijent and Palas hotels are also
favourites with the criminal gangs running the people- smuggling
rackets.
Their next step was revealed by a surveillance operation set up by
officers of the International Police Task Force in Sarajevo in
December, who tracked three groups of migrants to small hotels
and safe houses close to the international borders they will cross
by foot, in boats across the Sava river, or even in the back of
empty fuel tanker lorries specially equipped with benches, all of
them en route for Fortress Europe.
Wahab and the other young men who arrived on Friday are the
willing victims of the world's fastest-growing crime, a trade that the
International Organisation for Migration calculates is worth
upwards of 70 million a year in Bosnia alone. Worldwide, the UN
estimates, the smugglers earned around 4 billion in the past 12
months alone. Coming to Bosnia is not a crime. But what they will
try to do when they are here is definitely illegal. And few have any
doubt that the smuggling of migrants is being aided through
Bosnia by police and politicians at the highest level.
According to Geoffrey Beaumont, coordinator of the UN's project to
set up a functioning Bosnian State Border Service, more than 10
per cent of the half million illegal migrants who reached the EU
last year came via the Bosnian route. And although Croatia has
been catching up to 5,000 of them a year, few are in any doubt
that, deported back to Bosnia, most will try again. By their third
attempt officials believe most will have crossed into Europe proper.
It is a route fast becoming one of the biggest headaches for the
EU. Last week European Commissioner Chris Patten announced
extra aid for training Bosnian and other Balkan police forces in the
fight against migrant-smuggling after it was raised by EU Foreign
Ministers.
The announcement comes against a background of a rising sense
of crisis in the EU over illegal migration which has increased more
than tenfold in the past 10 years. Across Europe arrests at
borders are rocketing, as are asylum applications across the 15
nations.
In Bosnia the traffic in illegal migrants conceals a second, more
venal trade in humans: the trade in sex slaves which lures women
and young girls to Bosnia 'mainly from Eastern Europe and former
Soviet republics' with the promise of jobs as au pairs or waitresses
in the EU.
In one of the most shocking cases, uncovered last summer, 12
women and young girls were found locked in a darkened room in a
bar in the town of Prijedor, where they had been held and
repeatedly raped.
According to officials who dealt with the case, the horror of the
original discovery was quickly overtaken by a sense of impotence
as corrupt local officials frustrated their efforts to prosecute those
involved. 'We had to move the women four times in 10 days to
different secret safe houses because the traffickers kept turning up
outside,' says Fredric Larrson, programme manager with the
International Organisation for Migration in Sarajevo.
Their persistence paid off. Faced with constant harassment, four of
the five women prepared to testify against the slavers withdrew
their evidence and the case collapsed. International officials have
no question about how the women were so easily found. 'We have
very strong indications,' said one official familiar with the case,
'that the authorities collude in both the trafficking of people and
smuggling in illegal immigrants at the very highest level.'
The case of the Prijedor women, say officials, is simply the
starkest evidence of the difficulties they face in trying to stamp out
human trafficking in Bosnia: the large-scale involvement of corrupt
politicians and police. Prosecutions have been almost non-
existent for both crimes; detection is hampered by those willing to
help the people-smugglers.
Among those named to The Observer by international officials as
suspected of benefiting from the trade in migrants is the son of
one of Bosnia's most respected figures. One senior official said:
'His company was organising special charter flights full of Iranians
last year who simply disappeared. Do I think he is involved? I
believe at least that he has benefited from it. The truth,' he
continued, 'is that this is being encouraged by corruption at the
very highest levels.'
Evidence exists too that the smuggling business is part of a
sophisticated international network that supplies forged
documents as well. In some cases the trail leads to Britain.
Late last year, say international police, a package was intercepted
from London addressed to an Iranian woman renting
accommodation in Sarajevo. Instead of the CDs it claimed to
contain, the package was stuffed with stolen European passports.
The shocking reality of Bosnia today, international officials say, is
this. Five years after the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed to
bring a genocidal war to an end, a country that has received
unprecedented military and economic aid from the international
community has turned, not into a model Balkan democracy, but
into one of Europe's main hubs for smuggling people.
'It is depressing as hell,' said one official. 'Almost half the people in
Sarajevo depend on the international community for their income,
but we can't persuade the authorities to stamp it out. It would be
easy if the international community was really bothered. We could
simply say stop this or we stop the aid.'
It is a threat already levelled against Yugoslavia, blamed for years
under the Milosevic regime of being the main conduit of Chinese
migrants into Europe. Late last year the EU told President Vojislav
Kostunica that aid to his country is contingent on him closing the
door to the tens of thousands of Chinese illegal immigrants using
Belgrade as a first stop on their route into the EU.
It is a solution many international officials believe should be applied
to shock Bosnia's corrupt politicians out of their complacency. But
they do not blame Bosnia alone. 'We are very concerned over what
Europe is going to do about this problem,' says Geoffrey
Beaumont. 'They say they are worried about this, but is their
solution to seal off Bosnia from Europe?'
So far, he concedes, there is little danger of that. The State Border
Service he is helping to set up is 'so far working at only four of
Bosnia's 400-odd border crossings. International funding for the
project has been woeful. At present we have a budget of around 6
million to control all of Bosnia's borders. If Europe was serious
about controlling this problem all it would cost the individual
governments would be around 3m a year. That must be cheaper
than the money that they are spending on detecting, arresting,
holding and returning illegal refugees. So far the only people who
are really trying hard on this issue are the Germans and the
Dutch.'
The alternative is a solution that is quickly becoming the EU's most
  controversial issue: a proposed scheme of managed migration into
Europe via quotas and a 'green card' entry scheme similar to that
in the US. Floated last December in a European Commission
communication, it calls for a Europe- wide asylum and immigration
policy that would abandon three decades of a zero migration
policy in response to predictions of a declining and ageing
European population that will need mass migration to sustain its
economic life.
What that would mean, according to the EU justice and home
affairs Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, involved in drawing up the
paper, is a policy aimed at trebling legal migration to almost one
million by 2004.
But despite evidence collected by the Commission, the idea of a
permit system for unskilled labourers like Wahab is unlikely to be
smiled on by politicians in Britain or elsewhere. For although
Britain's Home Office Minister, Barbara Roche, has been
persuaded of the need to attract skilled migrants, no one has been
persuaded of the case of those at the bottom of the ladder. It is a
contradiction that has been noted by Sarah Spencer, director of the
Citizenship and Governance programme of the Institute for Public
Policy Research, who has been advising the Home Office on any
change to its migration policy.
'One of the questions that has yet to be addressed is that, if we
had legal channels into Britain and Europe, would it reduce the
pressure to come in and dissuade people from going to the
smugglers? That is a very sensitive issue. At the moment we have
got a consensus that we need skilled labourers. We need to
extend that consensus to a similar need for unskilled labourers of
the kind currently coming in illegally.'
Last week in Bosnia there was little room for optimism. The biggest
success in the fight against the migrant trade in the past year was
the international
  community persuading Iran to impose visas on its visitors to Bosnia, barring
  25,000 Iranian migrants who passed through last year. They know there is
little room for complacency. How little room exactly was revealed last week
when The Observer visited a travel agency in the back streets of Aksaray, in
  Istanbul's old city. In the windows of local travel agents, signs advertise
'Visas'. In a back room of one small hotel, a woman from the Caucasus runs
what is clearly a profitable business. We are introduced by a
mutual acquaintance, and ask whether she can help an Iranian
friend get to Bosnia. She asks a few questions in return, and
sounds a little suspicious.
'Why Bosnia?' 'He has relatives there.'
'When does he want to go?' 'As soon as he can.'
Finally she picks up the phone to call a contact: the man with the
visas. She says a visa and a ticket for Bosnia can be ready the
following day for $1,000. 'Does your friend want to go further?' she
asks. 'Perhaps.' 'That can also be arranged, but it will cost much
more.' 
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