Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azeri Trafficking Victims Face Social Rejection

Women forced or tricked into prostitution need help if they are to be reintegrated into society, say experts.
By Sabina Vaqifqizi
Esmira fell prey to human traffickers after she confronted a group who had lured one of her sisters.

Her sister had been tricked into an unregistered marriage with one of the traffickers, who had abandoned her when she became pregnant.

“When [my sister] returned, she was afraid to say what had happened to her. I found those who deceived her, but became their prey as well,” said Esmira.

She told IWPR that when she tackled the traffickers over the treatment of her sister, they forced her to go to Turkey. Her third sister also fell into the hands of traffickers and is still missing, she said.

In Turkey, Esmira was forced to work as a prostitute with other abducted girls and was tortured. She still remembers everything, even though three years have passed.

“They push for what they want. If you do not obey, they torture you by beating you. They force you to do humiliating things. They didn’t pay us anything for the work we did,” she said.

Esmira said she managed to escape with the help of Turkish police.

“One of the workers knew a police officer. He reported the traffickers. They came to the place we stayed in wearing plain clothes and pretending to be customers. The traffickers were arrested right on the spot,” she said.

Increasing numbers of women in the country are falling prey to human traffickers.

According to the Azerbaijan Migration Centre, at least 23 victims were identified in the first quarter of this year – two and a half times more than in the same period last year.

Alovsat Aliev, a lawyer and chairman of the Legal Aid Centre for Migrants, told IWPR that 60 per cent of girls become victims after being deceived and led astray by people close to them – friends, neighbours and even parents.

On other occasions, they are tricked by false job advertisements in newspapers and on posters, promising high wages for work in Azerbaijan and abroad.

Aliev said when a victim responds to an advert, she is asked to bring her passport. In some cases, she is taken out of the country and the traffickers refuse to hand over her documents, often forcing her to work as a prostitute.

“Our centre provides free legal counseling for victims who have been deceived by tempting job offers. We have volunters who work with those people who need help,” said Aliev.

The lawyer said there were few others places where victims can turn for assistance, while the law provides no compensation for victims.

“The reason is [down to an] inability to calculate the damage suffered by victims of human trafficking,” he explained.

IWPR approached the Azeri interior ministry’s department for combating human trafficking for an interview. Head of the department Javad Shikhaliyev referred this journalist to his deputy Imran Najafov, who was not prepared to answer IWPR’s questions.

After her escape, Esmira approached the NGO Clean World for help. The organisation has been providing legal and psychological aid to the victims of human trafficking for ten years. With its support, she learned computer programming and now works for the human resources department of a company in Baku.

According to Clean World, the nine men who abducted Esmira were arrested, convicted of human trafficking and are now serving prison sentences of varying lengths.

However, head of the group Mehriban Zeynalova warned that Esmira remains at risk.

“Those traffickers are in prison, but they have friends who could track Esmira down. That is why we don’t reveal her exact location or work place.”

Zeynalova said that after women leave the shelter, they are in danger in falling prey to traffickers once again – although finding stable employment can make them less vulnerable.

But Ruslan Veliyev, a lawyer who works with Clean World, said it’s a struggle for the women to find jobs as employers sometimes discriminate against them once they find out what has happened to them.

“Victims of human trafficking face pressure at work and they are even fired. This is a crime under the labour code,” he said.

Psychotherapist Faxriyya Mammadova said that victims need support if they are to be rehabilitated.

“Society, relatives and people around them must be able to forgive them. Only in this case is their rehabilitation possible,” she said.

“Victims of human trafficking are subjected to two traumas. First is the humiliation they feel; second is their rejection by society. People close to victims should try and understand them, and must not blame them for what has happened.”

Esmira said that victims shouldn’t feel guilty, as they are innocents tricked into a miserable life, “No girl would want to be unhappy, follow the wrong path and become a prostitute.”

She believes society should seek to support them. “People should not look down on [victims] – [and] instead, reach out to them,” she said.

Sabina Vaqifqizi is a correspondent for Baku-FM radio.

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