KMOP hosts a European conference on “Joining Forces Against Human Trafficking”

The critical role of healthcare professionals in countering human trafficking, a serious crime with 7,155 registered victims in the EU (Eurostat, 2021), was the theme of the international conference “Joining Forces Against Human Trafficking”, hosted by KMOP – Social Action and Innovation Centre, in collaboration with PAYOKE and the AMELIE project partners, on 5 October 2023, in Brussels, and held in the context of the EU Anti-Trafficking Day. It is worth mentioning that 91 people attended the event.

The conference brought together experts from state authorities, civil society organisations, and field professionals, who underlined the importance of enhancing the capacity of healthcare and frontline service providers to identify, refer and provide trauma-informed, gender-sensitive and culturally competent services to trafficked persons–particularly adult women.

To this end, KMOP presented a new training manual and e-learning course specifically designed to educate healthcare professionals–among the few service providers victims may encounter while still in a trafficking situation–to recognise the indicators of human trafficking and facilitate survivors’ access to appropriate services (AMELIE project). Natasha Alexopoulou, project coordinator from KMOP and on behalf of the AMELIE consortium, particularly stressed the multiple trainings and workshops organised by partner countries with the participation of over 800 professionals and over 200 stakeholders respectively. She also mentioned the training manuals and best practices handbook made available, as well as the support services on healthcare and well-being offered by all partners to 288 migrant women and men survivors or potential victims of trafficking in human beings (THB).

“The identification of even just one victim of THB will be proof of the success of this initiative”, noted Lampros Theodosopoulos, Head of Department, 2nd Health Care Directorate of the Ministry of Health, Greece.

Stefania Toufexi, Regional Aftercare Manager for Europe and Africa, A21, underlined the need for an individualized approach for THB survivors, while highlighting the challenges faced by health professionals in dealing with victims (lack of interpretation, fear, lack of documentation, triggering discomfort). She also noted best practices identified, such as common signs to notice and a visible national hotline posted in all medical facilities.

Maria Venetsanou, a social worker at the Hellenic National Public Health Organisation (EODY), referred to “Philos”, the Emergency Health Response to the Refugee Crisis, as well as to the Trafficking and Smuggling manual developed by EODY and the Ministry of Health to assist with victim identification.

German OBGYN Wolfgang Heide who offers free treatment at the Amalie Counselling Centre for Women in Prostitution provided a riveting account of what he witnesses daily, repeating the words of a client that they are “not telling you the worst”. He stressed that “no woman voluntarily enters this ‘profession’”, while noting that “it is important for those in a bad situation to feel that someone cares for them”.

“The need to transform ‘sick stories’ into healing stories”, taking into account the mental health needs and cultural differences of the victims”, was the focus of the approach explained by Roberta Franchitti of ETNOPSI – School of Ethno-Systemic-Narrative Psychotherapy in Rome.

Hannah Ballout, Family Doctor and General Secretary of the Scientific Society of General Medicine (SSMG) in Belgium, accounted for the ‘sentinel-like role of the general practitioner (GP)’ in “breaking the silence” for violence and offering confidential assistance.

Focusing on ways to strengthen international and European networks to combat human trafficking and organised crime, Ala Vechiu-Ghermain, Assistant Project Officer for the Anti-Trafficking Portfolio at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, presented the 2nd edition of the Handbook drafted by the OSCE/ODIHR on National Referral Mechanisms and how they contribute to protecting the rights of trafficked persons. Stylianos Arvanitidis, Regional Programme and Policy Assistant at the International Organisation for Migration, presented an initiative titled “Counter-Trafficking Theory of Change”, which will be published soon.

As regards effective policies and practices against human trafficking, Lieutenant Vasilios Georgiadis of the Anti-trafficking unit of the Greek Police in Thessaloniki, Greece, presented an operation carried out in February 2019 against an organised crime group responsible for 27 cases of child trafficking.

“We must look behind the surface of what we see when we’re dealing with potential THB cases”, Anna-Greta Pekkarinen (HEUNI, Finland) said, while providing brief insights of the Finnish Ministry of Interior study on the “reflection periods” given to THB victims.

The challenges faced by THB victims, such as the lack of special protection status and their lack of access to appropriate care, was also highlighted by Luisa Eyselein, a social worker for The Justice Project in Germany.

Concluding the conference, representatives of EU projects, such as Return, SafeHut, VoiceOver, and DIRECT, outlined inspiring initiatives in preventing and combating human trafficking.

The conference was held as part of the EU-funded AMELIE project titled enhAncing Mechanisms of idEntification, protection and muLti-agency collaboratIon through transnational and multi-sectoral actors’ Engagement. The project is carried out by KMOP in Greece, PAYOKE in Belgium, SOLWOLDI in Germany; Differenza Donna and APG23 in Italy, under the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.


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