The US State Department has reported that Malta does not meet minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. This should hardly come as a surprise. What is truly surprising, however, is how little the authorities seem willing to do about the problem, which, in certain sectors, at least, is so blatant.
It should be obvious enough, even to the most casual observer, that where you have a specific set of nationalities covering particular jobs, which usually few people will want to do or that hover on that blurred line between what is legal and what is not, something must be amiss.
The report mentioned above in fact puts the spotlight squarely on three industries: “Women from Southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlours and women from central and eastern Europe working in nightclubs.”
As far back as May 2008, a pimp told a journalist that Malta’s eastern European prostitution ring “depended heavily on a racket of pimps and immigration officials, who would stamp visas for working girls against payment or sex”. These women were bought for less than €1,000 and made to ‘see’ several clients a day.
In March 2012, a pimp was jailed for 11 years for luring women to Malta by offering them work in a restaurant. Instead, the women ended up imprisoned in a farmhouse and forced to have sex with men for €35. If they refused, they were made to work in a strip bar or re-sold for €1,200 to settle the debt they incurred travelling to Malta.
The case had opened a whole can of worms with respect to the so-called adult clubs. One would have thought that, in the circumstances, it would be logical that a thorough investigation be carried out to find out exactly what was going on. Yet, the streets of Paceville remain littered with such clubs and the majority of employees still seem to be eastern Europeans.
The same argument may be made with regard to Southeast Asian women employed as live-in household help. In February last year, a Filipino woman employed as nanny on minimum wage accused a family of forcing her to work almost 1,000 hours in unpaid overtime over a 13-month period.
Earlier this year, four people were accused of trafficking Filipinos and forcing them to work for a pittance while living in miserable conditions. Again, no concerted effort appears to be in process to put a stop to what must be a wider trafficking ring. Late last year, a Chinese woman claimed she was forced to engage in prostitution and other “illegal work” by the operator of a chain of massage parlours. This following allegations by another Chinese woman who told journalists massage parlour bosses had good contacts with the authorities.
The evident lack of action on the part of the Maltese authorities has not escaped the US report, which points out that the government “prosecuted fewer trafficking cases, identified fewer victims and did not provide enough financial support to anti-trafficking efforts”.
It has long been suspected that Malta is somewhat of a hub when it comes to human trafficking. Last year, the country came under fire from the Council of Europe for failing to implement the convention on protecting victims of human trafficking. Countries notoriously lagging behind on human rights – like Azerbaijan and Armenia – scored higher than Malta.
The US State Department report shines a brighter spotlight on this failing. The way forward, surely, should be clear enough for the authorities.
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