Human Trafficking in Hungary: the Invisible Phenomenon

  • Long-Awaited Reunion: Reintegration is a long process for victims of human trafficking. In addition to poor living conditions, they have also been left traumatized by their experience and so they eagerly look forward to being reunited with loved ones. © Dana Irina Popa/IOM 2007-MMD0073

Trafficking in human beings is the slavery of today which takes many different forms including sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, begging or the removal of organs. It involves a severe violation of individual freedom and dignity.

Trafficking in human beings is a lucrative business for criminal networks generating profits billions of US dollars. The 9th EU Anti-trafficking Day (18 October) provides an opportunity for policy makers and the general public in Hungary to reflect upon the magnitude of challenges in tackling this deplorable enslavement of human beings.

Reports show that Hungary is among the top five countries of origin of victims of human trafficking within the EU. Hungarians constituted 18 per cent of total victims identified in trafficking investigations by EUROPOL between 2009 and 2013.

Even though the actual number of victims remains unknown, experts and professionals agree that trafficking in human beings has been on the rise, according to statistics from the Hungarian Ministry of Interior which reveal that 122 and 133 victims were identified in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Hungarians have not only been trafficked abroad, but internal human trafficking is also of major concern.

Despite the growing numbers, trafficking in human beings is not seen as a problem by the society at large, due to the fact that it affects the subjective sense of safety to a limited extent only – unlike other violent criminal acts or offences against property.

Additionally, some victims themselves sometimes do not realise that they have become victims of criminal activities and may even view prostitution as a chance for better financial conditions.

Public awareness of the phenomenon is insufficient even though a rising number of Hungarians go to work abroad and may potentially become victim of labour exploitation, especially in sectors such as agriculture, construction and in factories.

The most vulnerable groups are those in extreme poverty, the Roma, unaccompanied asylum seekers and homeless men. Women and children, with the overrepresentation of the Roma, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and Europe, in particular to the Netherlands and Switzerland.

A large number of these victims come from state-provided childcare institutions and correctional facilities where many of them are underage and recruited by traffickers. Additionally, Hungarian men and women are victims of forced labour domestically and abroad, primarily in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

IOM has been actively involved in government efforts to counter human trafficking. It is the only intergovernmental organization to participate in the roundtable meetings with NGOs working on anti-trafficking issues, organized by the Ministry of Interior. Additionally, the Ministry has requested IOM’s assistance in devising a victim screening form to be annexed to the relevant legislation and serve as a victim identification tool.

Besides providing advisory services for the government, IOM has also been involved in providing assistance to victims returned by IOM from destination countries. Since 2012, IOM assisted 80 Hungarian victims to return home and re-establish their lives. IOM refers victims to the official shelter and administers funds available for reintegration, whenever they are available from the destination country.

There are currently two major destination countries – Switzerland and the Netherlands – from where such funds are available. In order to provide comprehensive services, IOM works with a network of NGO partners. As case-by-case assistance cannot and should not substitute a standardized assistance mechanism with guaranteed funding, the IOM has been continuously lobbying with the Government of Hungary for the establishment of a comprehensive, government-funded assistance mechanism with several shelters throughout the country.

Even though the root causes of victimization are embedded in poor socioeconomic conditions that only a set of long-term measures of social and education policies can effectively address, there are several steps of immediate impact that can be taken to mitigate the phenomenon.

IOM advocates that officials should not criminalize victims and instead should appropriately screen people in prostitution to ascertain whether they are victims of human trafficking who need assistance.

More efforts should be invested in identifying victims among vulnerable populations. Security and services should be enhanced at state-run institutes for children. Ultimately, victim assistance should be strengthened, together with raising public awareness of this invisible phenomenon. 

October 18th is EU Anti-Trafficking Day