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Human (Re) Trafficking in Denmark: Looking for a Solution or Recycling a Problem?

Globalization has made it easy to buy and sell goods across international borders within hours. Contributing to this world market is the profitable business of human trafficking, and even more so, the business of human re-trafficking. 

Trafficking Humans: Modern Day Slavery

The export and import of human beings for forced labor is a lucrative business. Around the world, states face major challenges as they attempt to put a halt to this thriving black market through enactment of anti-trafficking legislation, prosecution of traffickers, rescue of victims, and promotion of awareness about the issue. The land of fairytales is no exception.  
According to the Danish Anti-Trafficking Center, trafficking in humans is a growing problem in Denmark. Among victims, women trafficked for sexual exploitation constitutes the largest group. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 women in Denmark work as prostitutes, and that about half of these are foreigners. While procurement of a prostitute is not illegal in Denmark, pimping and participation in the recruitment process are. The Danish Ministry of Social Welfare estimates that about 250 women are trafficked to Denmark for sexual exploitation each year; this number excludes women from within the European Union. However, due to its criminal nature, many victims are constrained from seeking help, making it difficult to know the exact number of victims in Denmark. 
Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtainment of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.  A significant number of women trafficked to Denmark originate from Nigeria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Albania. Many others come from South America, Thailand and Cameroon. 

Recycling Human Misery: Re-Trafficking

It is often difficult to separate the causes of re-trafficking from the contributing factors in trafficking. The return by victims of trafficking to “similar socioeconomic circumstances as those that contributed to their being trafficked in the first instance” has been found to be a substantial factor. (IOM: 2008). In Denmark, this occurs when a trafficked victim comes into contact with authorities and as a result, is deported. Given that people are seen as a commodity by traffickers, upon deportation, the opportunity for re-investment by traffickers is made available. 
The psychological duress, manipulation, intimidation, and abuse suffered by victims, factored in with the fear of deportation, serves as a deterrent to seeking help from the authorities.

A Silent Cry for Help

Women who have been trafficked are often “kept in line” by their traffickers through threats of violence or abuse against themselves, or their families in the country of origin. “Death threats to the women themselves and their family members are not uncommon either. In parts of Africa black magic, voodoo or Ju-Ju’s are also used to threaten the women into complete submission,” states Anne Brandt Christensen, chairman of Hopenow, an organization that works to empower trafficked woman in Copenhagen. “We know of cases of family members being threatened or even killed in the countries of origin while the women are forced to continue working here in Europe,” adds Christensen. 
Serving as a source of information on the field, “Hopenow focuses on the human rights of women who are defined and treated as criminals by European states including Denmark and are not identified as trafficked,” explains the founder of Hopenow, Michelle Mildwater. “These women are deported, re-trafficked, abused, underground, undocumented, in prostitution and other forms of exploitive labor and simply lost in the system” she adds. 
The Danish Plans of Action + “Reflection” Period
In 2002, the Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Woman went into effect in Denmark. Among the plan’s provisions were initiatives to support victims of human trafficking. Reflecting this intention, the plan allowed victims to stay in Denmark for 15 days while preparing for their return to their home countries. During this “reflection period”, victims have access to psychological, medical and social support if needed. 
At the end of 2006, this action plan expired and a second one, the Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings 2007-2010, was enacted.  The main goals of this plan have been to increase efforts in combating human trafficking both nationally and internationally, and to provide support to victims.
The second plan of action featured a “reflection period” extension allowing trafficked victims who “collaborate on a prepared return,” to stay in Denmark for up to 100 days. Despite this new opportunity, only 12 victims of human trafficking chose to utilize this prolonged reflection period during all of 2008.  
The drawbacks of the reflection period are many. “The problem is that three months in Denmark are not a real alternative or solution for victims of human trafficking. The three months will not resolve the fundamental problems that led them into prostitution and made them fall victim to human trafficking,” comments Ann Mackel, who has worked on the plan of action to combat trafficking as a consultant for the Social Vulnerability Services in Copenhagen.  “Most problems arise from poverty, and after these women become victims of trafficking and start working as prostitutes in Denmark their debt and poverty may simply become even greater,” she adds. 
Nonetheless, Mackel notes that efforts to address the underlying problem of poverty are being made by organizations like the Nest International, which provides social services to foreign prostitutes during their stay in Denmark. She adds that the repatriation programs also place trafficked victims in contact with NGO’s in their home countries upon deportation.    

Repatriation of Victims

In 2008, The Ministry of Immigration started a pilot program with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to fund the safe repatriation of victims to their country of origin. While victims are given the option to take part in the repatriation program, which offers educational services and assistance from NGO’s in their home country, very few take up that offer. Such lack of participation in the repatriation program limits the IOM’s capacity to support deportees, and to help prevent them from being re-trafficked to Denmark or another European country. 
Victims of human trafficking reveal that a combination of mistrust towards authorities in their country of origin, fear of reprisals or violence from a former trafficker because of unpaid debt, a lack of other opportunities to support themselves and family members, and the fear of isolation and stigma related to their work as prostitutes, prevent them from enrolling in the repatriation programs.  Speaking about the issue, Mackel adds, “Monitoring of the NGO’s is an area we, in collaboration with IOM, will have to focus more on in the future.” 
According to the Danish Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking (DPACHT), a trafficked victim should only be sent back to his/her home country if the possibility of rehabilitation is ensured. However, despite questions of transparency and suspicions of underlying corruption, trafficked victims continue to be deported from Denmark to countries like Nigeria. In Nigeria, the government National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficked in Persons (NAPTIP) has been accused of corruption and involvement in criminal activities, including trafficking and cooperation with Nigerian mafia groups abroad and in Nigeria. On the basis of such allegations by a number of Danish NGO’s, the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) went on a fact-finding mission to Nigeria in 2007 and recently, in February of 2009.  The latest findings have rejected what is referred to as “unfounded allegations” against NAPTIP.  To these findings, Mildwater simply says,” If you inform people well in advance of your visit, they are going to prepare for your visit.”  

Legal Alternatives for Trafficked Victims

“The law provides the women with no security,” says Dorit Otzen, who manages the Nest International. “They are sent home and often fall victim to trafficking again,” she continues. According to Otzen, the biggest problem in combating trafficking is the fact that the regulations for granting of residence permits contained in the Aliens Act are incompatible with the aims of the 2007 Danish action plan. Speaking to the issue of granting victims of human trafficking asylum in Denmark, James MacDowell James MacDowell, the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Attaché in Denmark, states,” In general, it depends on each individual situation.  In order to receive asylum, the applicant must prove his or her eligibility under Danish law.  Being a victim of a crime is not in and of itself a prong for asylum as the applicant generally must prove persecution or fear of persecution by the home country’s government or groups acting on behalf of or with the tacit approval of the home country’s government." 
Despite the fact that many victims of trafficking experience threats, it is difficult to prove psychological duress and manipulation in a court of law, should a trafficker have to stand trial at some point. Aside from the reflection period, there is little room for legal alternatives for trafficked victims. Referring to the situation in Denmark, Mildwater argues, “If the country of origin is known to be corrupt and victims have witnessed against their trafficker --- it is essential victims receive asylum.” 
Both the U.S and some European countries have in recent years implemented residence permit systems, which provide victims of human trafficking with legal alternatives in the form of temporary residence permits and the opportunity to apply for permanent residence permits following the investigation and judicial prosecution of the trafficker that brought them to the country. Through such legal alternatives, countries like the Netherlands and Italy provide victims of trafficking with more comprehensive support and a realistic opportunity for escaping re-trafficking.

Sexual Politics mixed with Immigration Policies

While politicians in Denmark seem to agree upon general efforts to combat human trafficking, they part ways on the issue of providing victims with legal alternatives. The Red-Green Alliance paves the way in this regard, advocating that trafficked victims should be afforded the possibility of staying in Denmark and receiving permanent residency. Line Barfod, MP and chairman of the Red-Green Alliance’s members in Parliament explained on the subject, “It is our position that victims of trafficking should be able to get asylum in Denmark and this should not be subject to neither cooperation with the police or the Danish authorities.” She continues, “but we feel that it can be difficult to get through with our position on the issue of asylum for victims of trafficking in the parliamentary group as well as in the opposition.”
As there is a strong political consensus on strict asylum across a number of Danish parties, the Red-Green Alliance stands more or less alone in their fight to grant legal alternatives to trafficked victims.
In addition, non-governmental actors have contributed to the political debate over those legal alternatives. Sexual Political Forum, a league of skilled debaters that promotes awareness on themes of sexual politics in Denmark, is among those actors. It believes that asylum should be offered to any victim of trafficking who is unable to return to his/her homeland due to intimidation or threats awaiting them on the part of traffickers. To avoid false claims, the forum adds that a thorough investigation should be conducted to verify each claim.

Sustaining Life

The lack of legal alternatives for trafficked victims in Denmark puts these people at great risk for being re-trafficked. Upon deportation, the victims, the majority of them women, find that they are vulnerable and susceptible once again. Fearing traffickers in Denmark, as well as the struggle, threats, and perhaps violence that would await them in their country of origin, victims opt to deal with criminals rather than seek help with authorities and risk being deported. 
Extension of the reflection period and efforts to support victims through the repatriation program represent several of the initiatives that the Danish state is making to protect victims of trafficking. However, these efforts, while well intentioned, have not proven as effective as desired since they do not target the root causes of the problem. There are grounds for concern that the prospect of deportation adds to the fears of these women to such an extent, that perceiving no alternative, they choose not to seek help from authorities. Thus, the deportation process actually assists traffickers, with the result being that many cases of trafficking are recycled, and the re-investment of human misery allowed.
“A good beginning would be to actually acknowledge that the threats are serious and quite real.  The Danish government should build a sensible and realistic repatriation program which focuses on the needs and possibilities of the individual, both while they are here in Denmark and when they are deported back to their country of origin.  Some of the trafficked women will never be able to return safely to their country of origin, but should be given asylum because they will be persecuted as part of a vulnerable and stigmatized group” - Anne Brandt Christensen, Hopenow.



Barfod, Line. MP Red-Green Alliance, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 30, 2009.
Christensen, Anne Brandt. Chairman of HopeNow, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 31, 2009.
Mildwater, Michelle. Founder of HopeNow, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 29 - July 31, 2009.
Mackel, Ann. Consultant for the Social Vulnerability Services in Copenhagen. June 30, 2009.
MacDowell, James. DHS/ICE Attaché, U.S Embassy Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark. June 30, 2009.

Reports and Articles:

Danish Immigration Service, “Cooperation with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP)” Report from Danish Immigration Service’s fact-finding mission to Abuja, Nigeria, 2009.
Department of Gender Equality, “Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings 2007-2010”, 2007.
Laura Schlapkohl, “Human Trafficking and the Common European Asylum System- Victim Protection and the Assistance in the European Union”, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Thesis, 2006.
NIKK, “When People become a Commodity”, Seven Nordic Tales 2008 – Conference Report, 2008.
Soroptomist International/Danmark and The Nest International, Report on Trafficking in Persons in Denmark, 2008.
The Social Democrats, Trafficking, 2005.
International Organization of Migration (IOM)"The causes and consequences of Re-trafficking." Global Eye on Human Trafficking, (March 2008).


“Trafficking- Analysis and Recommendations”. Sexual Political Forum. http://seksualpolitik.dk/trafficking-analyse.html
“StopTraffickingWomen.nu”, 3F.
“Stop Trafficking in Humans” HopeNow. http://www.hopenow.dk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=51&Itemid=55
“HopeNow Aims” HopeNow. http://www.hopenow.dk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&Itemid=79
“What is Human Trafficking” HopeNow http://www.hopenow.dk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=64
“About Us” The Nest International.
“About Human Trafficking” The Nest International.
“Repatriation” The Nest International. http://www.kvindehandel.dk/?pid=49&sub=30
 “Questions and answers – Why do many victims not want to go back home?” The Danish Anti-Trafficking Centre.
“Questions and answers –  How large is the extent of human trafficking?
The Danish Anti-Trafficking Centre.
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