Armenia: Trafficked and Exploited
The pandemic and Nagorny Karabakh conflict of 2020 have led to a steep rise in the number of Armenian victims.
In 2012, Lilit (not her real name) had been living in Yerevan for five years, having moved from her home in the regions to find work as a nanny.
Earning only 3,000 drams (7.5 US dollars) a day, she struggled to support herself and her sick mother. As the price of medicines increased, Lilit got into financial problems and had to look for a second job.
An acquaintance told her she could easily find work as a nanny in Greece, offering to travel with her to help her get settled.
“A week after our conversation, she came and said that she found a job for me,|” Lilit continued. I was to take care of a small child in an Armenian family and teach him Armenian. It seemed to be an easy job, for which I would get a salary of about 100 dollars a day.”
Lilit was told that the family would provide her with accommodation and meals, and agreed to take the longer but cheaper bus route to Greece via Turkey, rather than flying.
“We had just arrived [in Istanbul] and were supposed to go to Greece in a few hours,” Lilit recounted. “All my money and documents were in my acquaintance’s bag. She said it was safer that way, and I gave her to keep those things. At that time, I blindly believed in her,”
A short time later, however, her acquaintance announced that the bag had been stolen. She told Lilit not to panic, saying that she knew many people in Istanbul who could help.
Lilit was taken to a guesthouse, where she was told to provide sexual services to an intermediary who would help provide new passports. New documents never appeared.
“I was very young and stupid at that time. I stayed there for a year, then got seriously ill, and they sent me back so that I wouldn't be an extra burden. Only God knows how I got to Armenia and stopped thinking of suicide,” Lilit said.
The most common form of trafficking of Armenians is sexual exploitation. According to the most recent figures from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), 68 Armenian citizens were identified as having been trafficked between 2017 and 2021.
Out of these, 34 people, including men, were subjected to sexual exploitation. Of the rest, 23 people experienced labor exploitation, eight were forced to bed and three were enslaved.
However, presenting clear statistics on trafficking is difficult. People subjected to trafficking often remain silent about their experience, given the associated trauma and shame. Many cases do not reach court either as the crime is often hard to prove.
Last year, the ministry of labour and social affairs of Armenia noted a steep rise in the numbers of victims of trafficking documented – 31 compared to nine the previous year. Out of the 31 victims identified, 24 were subjected to sexual exploitation.
“There was a sharp increase in the number last year,” said Kristina Hovhannisyan, head of the equal opportunities department at the ministry of labour and social affairs. “It was the post-Covid and post-war [Nagorny Karabakh conflict of autumn 2020] period. It had left its trace. Already this year, the committee on the identification of victims of human trafficking and exploitation formed by the government has identified three trafficked persons. Moreover, we have both children under 18 years old and adults.”
Zara Manucharyan, spokeswoman of the ministry of labour and social affairs, said that a national 2023-2025 programme on combatting people trafficking was currently being finalised and would soon be sent to the government for consideration.
She said, “Adoption of the draft will make it possible to continue the fight against human trafficking and exploitation in a systematic way.”
The ministry provides support to victims of trafficking, including children, through services including the provision of accommodation and documentation as well as legal, medical and psychological support. Each person is also provided with a one-time grant of around 250,000 drams (630 dollars).
Nonetheless, for those who experience trafficking, rebuilding a normal life can be a challenging experience.
When Lilit returned to Armenia, she first found work as a cleaner. She kept herself to herself and did not speak out about her experiences, fearing that she would face judgement from society.
Lilit now has her own small business, collecting and selling herbs and vegetables. But she said it had taken her a long time to get back on her feet.
“I still avoid many people,” she said, adding, “I probably won't forget that [time of] chaos in my life.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.