By Ana Maria Touma and Maria Cheresheva
A newly published index names Romania and Bulgaria as two of the five EU countries where the risk of modern slavery is highest – alongside Greece, Italy and Cyprus.
Romania and Bulgaria are among the European Union countries most vulnerable to modern slavery, a new report has warned.
The Modern Slavery Index 2017, released by the UK-based Verisk Maplecroft risk analysis consultancy, puts Romania and Bulgaria among the top five countries in the European Union at highest risk of modern slavery together with Greece, Italy and Cyprus.
The five countries are key entry points in the region for migrants who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, the authors of the index say.
The report says the situation in Romania worsened faster than in any other country in the world, after it fell 56 places in the ranking since the previous report, to 66th place globally.
“Romania and Italy, [ which ranked in 133rd place], which fell 16 places, have the worst reported violations in the EU, including severe forms of forced labour, such as servitude and trafficking,” the report said.
Romania is is the only EU country categorised as a “high risk” country in terms of modern slavery by the index.
Its poor rating is driven both by instances of forced labour, trafficking and servitude inside the country, as well as by its poor record of enforcement, with authorities struggling to protect workers and tackle trafficking gangs, Jason McGeown, Verisk Maplecroft’s communications director, told BIRN.
He said the index assessed the risk of slavery inside a country by analysing the strength of a country’s legal frameworks, how well it enforces those laws and the likelihood and severity of violations.
“This means that Romania’s score represents risks inside Romania. Romanian victims of slavery in the EU are captured in other countries’ scores,” he noted.
Cases of abuse reported in Romania at the beginning of August include that of a British-Greek businessman who closed his factory in Prahova County, north of Bucharest, after being recorded on video humiliating employees who only requested payment on time.
Twenty people from a village in Arges County, west of Bucharest, meanwhile are on trial for allegedly being part of a network that enslaved and forced teenagers and children to beg.
Romanian organized crime prosecutors announced last year that they had dismantled a network specializing in begging. The beggars, some of whom were children, were de facto slaves, kept in chains, forced to work without pay and punished by being made to stand naked in the cold in winter, prosecutors said.
Romania’s national Agency Against Trafficking in Persons noted 880 victims of human trafficking in 2016, over 77 per cent of whom were women forced into prostitution. But it is unclear whether these data refer to victims in Romania or abroad.
Bulgaria is also a country of origin for human trafficking. Around 80 per cent of victims here are trafficked for sexual exploitation, Stefan Ralchev, chief expert at the Bulgarian National Commission from Combating Traffic of Human Beings, told BIRN.
Labour exploitation comes second, representing 10 to 15 per cent of all the cases that the state documents per year, followed by trafficking with the aim of begging, organ trading and trading in newborns.
In 2016, the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor’s Office in Bulgaria recorded 447 victims of human trafficking, 31 of whom fell into the category of modern slavery,
In the first six months of 2017, 70 cases of human trafficking were reported to the human trafficking commission. None of these documented cases occurred in Bulgaria, however.
In its annual campaign against labour exploitation for 2017, the National Commission warned job seekers to be especially cautious of offers of seasonal work in Swedish fruit picking and agriculture.
Experts said that over the past few years hundreds of Bulgarians have ended up with no money and shelter in the country, unable to return to Bulgaria, after being cheated by middlemen both of Bulgarian and Swedish origin.
One case brought to light concerned three young Roma men from eastern Bulgaria who left with a group of 10 other people, organized by a local man who drove them to Sweden in a van – on condition that they would repay him for the transport and for the “favour”.
The three youngsters only made it safely back to Bulgaria with the help of the Bulgarian embassy to Sweden. To avoid such situations, the authorities have advised Bulgarians working abroad always to use licensed companies, never to hand over personal documents to middlemen or employers, and always to demand contracts in Bulgarian or in a language that they understand.
According to the EU statistics agency, Eurostat, EU citizens account for 65 per cent of identified trafficked victims within Europe. Most of them come from Eastern Europe, especially Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.
The countries with the highest risk of modern slavery were named as North Korea, Syria, South Sudan and Yemen.