4th INTERPOL Global Conference
Human trafficking is a sad reality that also affects Switzerland. Because of the country’s attractive economic situation, criminals are easily able to convince young women to come here. In most cases, the victims are aged between 17 and 25. The criminals lure them with false promises: a better future, good living conditions, a job, an education and the opportunity to make a lot of money. But what these young women experience when they arrive is very different.
Identifying victims to apprehend the perpetrators
Like many other countries in the world, Switzerland is affected by human trafficking. It is primarily a country of destination but also of transit. Most victims are sexually exploited in prostitution. To a lesser extent, individuals are trafficked for forced labour in domestic work, agriculture, the hospitality sector and the construction industry. We also believe that there are cases of juvenile delinquency, for example pickpocketing and begging.
The victims of sexual exploitation in Switzerland largely come from Eastern Europe, in particular Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. But they may also hail from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Nigeria or Cameroon.
Human trafficking is a crime that goes beyond national borders. In light of this, international police co-operation with INTERPOL is essential, whether through the official information channels of the central INTERPOL office in Bern, or through police attachés.
At this time it is difficult to put a figure on the number of victims of human trafficking in Switzerland. The first hurdle is identifying the victims, who are often reluctant to go to the police to report their situation for fear of threats of violence and reprisals. Often potential victims do not trust the Swiss police authorities. For Swiss authorities and for NGO actors, identifying victims is crucial in order to launch investigations, arrest the perpetrators of these crimes and to allow victims to exercise their rights.
Collaboration with INTERPOL and victim protection organisations
INTERPOL is a key partner for Switzerland. Exchanging information and international co-operation are vital in fighting criminal networks and successfully identifying the perpetrators, including in countries of origin.
For example, effective collaboration between INTERPOL and the Swiss authorities led to the identification of a criminal network and many victims connected to Thailand. The network was sending young women to Switzerland to be sexually exploited. The members of the criminal network were arrested and tried, or are awaiting trial. As Thailand is a member of the INTERPOL global network, it was possible to collaborate with the Thai police authorities. INTERPOL was therefore essential for the collection and verification of information on the case.
Collaboration with victim protection organisations has proved to be just as crucial. Witness statements given by victims are of pivotal importance in the conviction of criminals. It is also important to minimise the lasting damage to victims by providing them with the protection and support they need. Often, the victims do not speak the local language, are vulnerable, have large debts to pay off and are in Switzerland illegally. Arresting and detaining potential victims because they are illegal immigrants does not help the authorities to identify the criminals who are exploiting them; in fact, it has quite the opposite effect. Providing access to welfare organisations where victims can meet in a safe and trusted environment and then asking them to co-operate with the police is a process that can be effective. In such cases, victims are often prepared to give evidence.
fedpol acts as a link
fedpol supports cantonal police forces as human trafficking investigations come under the authority of the cantons.
fedpol coordinates cantonal and international investigations. It ensures information is exchanged with INTERPOL and Europol. Together with its cantonal and federal partners, as well as with NGOs, fedpol has developed a strategy for tackling human trafficking in the form of a national action plan. fedpol ensures strategic coordination and implements Switzerland’s international obligations.
Combating human trafficking is one of the priorities of the Federal Council’s law enforcement strategy for the legislative period 2016-2019. Various projects are under way, including a police co-operation project between Switzerland and Romania. A similar project has just been launched between Switzerland and Bulgaria. The projects were initiated by Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga and aim to facilitate the identification of human trafficking cases in which the victims are from these two countries. The project with Bulgaria has involved a study trip in Switzerland, which brought together Bulgarian police experts and NGOs, and action weeks are due to follow in 2017. You can find out more about the project undertaken with Romania in the latest fedpol annual report.
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