Stana Buchowska: The challenges of implementing anti-trafficking policies in Poland

© Stana Buchowska
© Stana Buchowska

Stana Buchowska is co-founder of La Strada Network.  Her main areas of work and expertise include lobbying and advocacy work, fundraising, project coordination, training,  networking on national and international level.  She was a member of the EU Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings.

To describe a trafficking phenomenon in Poland we can start to identify factors contributing to trafficking. Poverty and unemployment, feminization of poverty and migration, violence against women, demand on cheap, unprotected labor and services provided by migrants in countries of destination are the most often identified root causes in the countries of origin worldwide.
Poland is a country of origin, transit and destination for trafficked persons. Polish nationals are being trafficked mostly to EU countries like Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and Scandinavian countries and, rather incidentally, to Australia, and the United States.
According to the reports of La Strada Foundation and statistics provided by the General Prosecution Office and Ministry of Interior, women from Lithuania, Latvia and Moldova trafficked to Germany are transit across Poland. As for a country of destination, the majority of trafficked persons to Poland are from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Belarus and other countries of the former Soviet Union. During the last four years, NGOs have noticed a growing number of trafficked persons from some African (Cameroon, Djibouti, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia) and Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam). The main NGO service providers in Poland – La Strada Foundation - reported to assist between 200 and 250 trafficked persons per year.

© Michael Wuertenberg
© Michael Wuertenberg

In September 2010 Poland has introduced its new anti-trafficking laws, including a definition of trafficking in compliance with the Council of Europe Convention. The National Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings, implemented since 2003 in a two-year cycle, serves as an equivalent mechanism of National Referral Mechanism in Poland.  The structures and referral system in Poland are based on agreed rules and principles: authorities (police, border guards, prosecutor office) are trained to identify victims, including children. In general, NGOs are consulted in the process of identification. Once identified, trafficked persons can obtain a temporary residence permit according to the Act of Aliens for 6 months, which can be prolonged. Obtaining a residence permit is conditional to the cooperation with the competent authorities – the police, border agencies and prosecutor office.  All trafficked persons referred to NGOs have access to various forms of (free of charge) care, including psychological support, crises intervention, medical help, legal assistance, and safe accommodation. For Polish citizens and for migrants with regular resident status, a program of social and labor inclusion might be offered. Although, some services, such as those offered within the KCIK (the National Intervention and Consultation Centre) program, financed by the Ministry of Interior, are conditional. In order to enter this program - the trafficked persons should be identified – either informally by the NGO or formally in case of migrants, by the police, the border guards or the prosecutor office. In order to assign a trafficked person to a program of assistance, the NGO needs to have a formal approval of some of the three authorities. In the reflection and recovering period trafficking victims are eligible to receive services and benefits regardless of their immigration or other status, or their ability and willingness to cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors. Theoretically the reflection period can be 90 days, in practice it is used only very rarely. During last 3 years less than 20 persons benefitted from it. The risk assessment in case of return of trafficked persons is carried out by NGOs, in cooperation with partners from countries of origin. It is rather their own initiative than an obligatory provision. An identification of trafficked persons, especially for the purpose of forced labor and labor exploitation remains still a big challenge. There were cases reported when the border guards wrongfully identified a group of exploited migrant workers as irregular migrants rather than trafficked persons. An efficient system of monitoring and evaluation, in order to measure the impact of anti-trafficking activities implemented is also lacking in Poland.

Recommendations for governments and other key actors of anti-trafficking field:

  • it is crucial to improve the practical implementation of the reflection period for presumed trafficked persons;
  • in order to protect the rights of all trafficked persons, it is fundamental to improve the identification procedures to target cases of trafficking for all purposes of exploitation, such as forced labor, slavery like practices, domestic servitude, forced begging, petty crimes, etc.;
  • to introduce and implement a monitoring mechanism covering all aspects of anti-trafficking legislation, policies and activities in Poland;
  • in order to provide appropriate assistance and fully respect the rights of trafficked persons, it is crucial to improve the quality of the existing multi-sector approach, as well as an interdisciplinary cooperation at the national and international level. (13.9. 2011)

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