Bosnian Brothels Flourish

The authorities in Bosnia are struggling to stem the flow of eastern European prostitutes into the country.

Bosnian Brothels Flourish

The authorities in Bosnia are struggling to stem the flow of eastern European prostitutes into the country.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

"When I save enough money, I shall open a shop at home, " said Elena, a Ukrainian prostitute working in Bosnia. " I no longer have hopes of getting married but I want to be a good mother to my child."

Elena says she earns 30 German marks for sexual intercourse. She supplements her earnings by cleaning the brothel in which she works.

The sex trade is flourishing in Bosnia. Groups of women are daily smuggled across Bosnia's poorly secured borders, many of them ending up in the republic's brothels.

Most come from poor eastern European countries like the Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. Many are bought and sold by criminal gangs, paid a pittance - or nothing at all - and live in appalling conditions.

"I am shocked at how many foreign women are being sold here as if they were mere slaves - I have encountered this all over Bosnia, " said the UN Special Envoy to Bosnia Elizabeth Rehn. She made her remarks two years ago, and since then the problem has deteriorated.

Only last month, the UN said Bosnian Serb police rescued 33 women forced into prostitution, in a raid on nightclubs in the town of Prijedor. Some of them were only 14-years-old.

The first brothels were established at a place called 'Arizona

Market' near Brcko, which lies on the border between Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation.

Prostitution has prospered in frontier areas because they afford quick and easy escape routes during police raids. In one federal police raid on a brothel built exactly on a border, its owner simply crossed into Republika Srpska side of the building to escape arrest.

The area around Zenica in central Bosnian has become particularly associated with the sex-trade, which ranges from street prostitution to exclusive bordellos.

Bosnian women themselves are hardly represented in local prostitution rackets, since brothel-owners fear local girls would be more likely to attract unwelcome police attention.

Instead, they are shipped off to work abroad - usually to Holland or Switzerland, where they often end up as streetwalkers.

Use of prostitutes in Bosnia is so widespread that the authorities issued a public health warning after a particular popular Romanian woman, whose clients included several local officials, was diagnosed with syphilis.

Attempts by local police and international forces to cut the supply of prostitutes to Bosnia have failed. Law enforcement agencies deport those they arrest in brothels but they are soon replaced.

Many foreign women working in the sex-trade do so willingly, but a significant number have been tricked, lured to Bosnia with promises of work as waitresses, nannies and baby-sitters.

There's little possibility of running away as they don't have any money or identity documents. They also fear their bosses will beat them if they are caught.

Since April this year, as many as 185 foreign women, many of them from Moldova and Romania, have sought help from the international police in Bosnia claiming they were forced into prostitution.

Prostitution here is only one branch of a well developed mafia-controlled sex-trade in the Balkans.

The business is run by the Ukrainian and Russian mafia. Their "couriers" smuggle girls into Serbia, where local crime gangs take over. They are sold into prostitution in Belgrade - criminals paying between three to four thousand German marks for each girl.

Their identity papers are confiscated and they're shipped off to work for several months in Serbian cities. After that they are sold in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans.

Large groups of foreign prostitutes began arriving in the Balkans in 1996, shortly after the signing of the Dayton agreement which brought the Bosnian war to an end. Their initial clients were SFOR troops, in whore houses in Bijeljina, Republika Srpska, not far from the Serbian border.

Later, widespread corruption in Serbia and Albania and the arrival of NATO troops in Kosovo enabled the prostitution business to expand, enriching the organisers of the trade beyond their wildest dreams.

Emir Imamovic writes for the Sarajevo weekly Dani

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