Line Barfod sees trafficking as more than just a huge problem for the victims, who are forced to live like slaves, humiliated and regularly subjected to violence and rape. She sees it as a threat to democracy too.
“If we look at it from society’s point of view, the worst problem is that trafficking undermines the very foundations of democracy. Allowing slavery to go on brutalises society. Allowing organised crime to flourish leads to corruption, violence, threats and so on.”
Line Barfod is a Danish MP. She has been a member of the Nordic Council since 2001, first on the welfare committee and then in the presidium. Since 2009, she has chaired the leftsocialist green group in the Nordic Council. She is one of the ten voices heard in the recently published 10 Nordic Politicians – Interviews with 10 politicians about the issues and challenges faced by Nordic co-operation in 2010.
Asking every year
At every recent Session of the Nordic Council, the Danish politician from the Red-Green Alliance, who also chairs the Working Group on Trafficking for the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), has asked the Nordic ministers what they are doing to combat trafficking.
“I get the impression that many Council members are concerned about trafficking. We thought we had mandated the governments and they’d just get on with it. But I guess we’ll have to push them a bit harder to stop the issue falling off the bottom of the political agenda,” she says.
Trafficking is modern slavery
Barfod is currently working on a new member’s proposal calling on the Nordic, Baltic and Russian authorities to redouble efforts to combat what she calls slavery.
“The victims of trafficking aren’t free. They don’t get to make decisions about their own lives. It’s slavery when you don’t get to decide for yourself what you’re going to do; when somebody threatens you with violence if you demand higher pay or say you don’t want to sell your body any more. When someone takes your passport and papers from you, that’s slavery.”
It is often the most vulnerable who are exploited in this way.
“Sometimes it’s because they’re poor and just need money, a fact others cynically exploit. Often they are women or members of ethnic minorities. The Roma are among the most vulnerable to trafficking in Europe. Young people in trouble of one sort or another are ripe prey for traffickers.”
Trafficking in human beings is a problem that transcends national borders in the Baltic Sea region. Many of those shipped to the Nordic Region come from the Baltic countries, Poland and Russia. According to Barfod, this is precisely why countries need to work together to help the victims.
“Trafficking is an international crime. People cross borders to get here. So we need to work together across borders to help the victims and stop the trade. Police and social workers need to work together to learn all about the trafficking and help each other to help the victims. All parties involved must share whatever knowledge is needed to convict the perpetrators.”
The Working Group on Trafficking in the BSPC will make a tangible proposal about what the governments in the Baltic Sea Region should do to combat trafficking.
“We think it’s important that politicians show commitment – they need to keep on discussing anti-trafficking initiatives, keep on demanding that funds are earmarked, keep on pushing the issue up the political agenda.”
“Trafficking has slipped down the Nordic agenda and is no longer included in the programme for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. If we want to make things happen, we need to push it back up the agenda. It’s important that people from different countries come together and exchange real-life experiences. It’s a big job, especially for a Task Force that’s about to lose its funding. We have to make it quite clear that we need to ringfence the funding. It’s a small amount, but it has a huge impact.”
A matter of will and resources
Unfortunately, trafficking is on the increase, and Barfod says that few of those who need help are receiving it. She stresses that much more needs to be done at government and individual level.
“To a great extent, it’s a question of earmarking sufficient resources and making sure that everybody is concerned about the issue and starts doing something about it.”
According to Barfod, the actual selling of humans is the least of the problem:
“The biggest problem, and the big money, is in the way they are exploited by other people.” She is admanant that huge amounts of money are made from owning and exploiting slaves.
“One of the things governments could do is to commission business analyses of how trafficking actually works. Then we’d know how best to deploy the police and make the gangs run the real risk of losing money.
This is an edited version of the interview first published in 10 Nordic Politicians ANP 2011:702 © Nordic Council of Ministers.