Capacity building on combatting child trafficking was held for the institutional representatives in North Macedonia with trainers Gerald Tatzgern – Head of the Central Office for Combating Smuggling and Human Trafficking – Joint Operational Office – Federal ministry of internal affairs of Austria,  Eva Kauffman from LEFO-Austria and Nermina Fakovic from Ministry of health-North Macedonia.

Representatives from different institutions: Ministry of labor and social affairs, Ministry of internal affairs, Ministry of justice, Ministry of health, Bureau for development of education , Personal data protection agency , Agency for protection of the right to free access to public information, Inter-municipal center for social work in the city of Skopje, were informed about the project cycle and activities by the project coordinator Aleksandra Radevska, and she mentioned that Northa Macedonia is one of the countries in the region that does not have mechanisms and systems for early warning of missing persons, emphasizing the need for cross-sectorial cooperation.

Gerald  Tatzgern, Head of Central Office for Combating Smuggling and Human Trafficking – Joint operational office (JOO) – FEDERAL MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, shared his over 20 years long experience in combating human smuggling, human trafficking and child trafficking. Talking about missing children he stated that in the institutional framework it is everybody’s responsibility. As Gerald Tatzgern explained, the activities that JOO Vienna takes upon are Real time intelligence, Joint investigations, Early Warning System(immediately shared trends on migration flows of unaccompanied children for example when smugglers are separated from parents/unaccompanied child), urgent support for common investigations (JOO in Vienna helped Eu funding for North Macedonia with resources for fighting crime), language assistance (plan for next year to help with interpretation online from Viena for some languages for North Macedonia – Urdu for example, for lack of expert translation but also lack of funds), Joint action days, Europol/Interpol,  All countries, Executive power (to directly invite colleagues from other countries to take part in police activities in Austria if needed).

Since 2018 a task force Wester Balkan coordination by JOO was established that North Macedonia is part of, and in cooperation with EUROPOL (EMSC), FRONTEX, EU commision, EMLO’s and Interpol.

Speaking of the process of Investigation – identification – cooperation, Gerald Tatzgern stated that although the investigation process is clear responsibility of institutions, the identification is much more about sharing responsibility of all, from civil society to institutions, as well as cooperation, where nobody is excluded.  He also highlighted the cooperation with media as very important part for transferring the message to public, CSO to sensitize, to support the government, etc. and it is very important to have a proactive approach.

Speaking about the role of Police- NGO cooperation, with a special focus on Child Trafficking, Gerald Tatzgern said that they have learned a lot in the past decade, and the focus when it comes to missing children is the victim so all involved cooperate in order to identify the suspect. This is a different approach, since the police is focused on the criminals, but on this topic it is not the only right approach. Gathering information when it comes to missing children for the criminal police goes through various channels, from investigations, EUROPOL, liaison officers consulates (police attaches currently 20), CSO intervention and crisis centers, as well as schools, but also from other police reports, victims, database, sources (anonymous).

Adding to that Eva Kauffman of LEFOE-IBF said that it is a unique system they built in Austria. The organization LEFOE-IBF exists since 1998 taking care of women and girls from the age of 15 who have been trafficked, and at the beginning it was not much trust between them and the police. After the contract was signed with the Ministry of interior and the Ministry of womens affairs it was clear that cooperation and trust need to be built, through open discussions on shortcomings, improvement needed and how to get along better.  So now it is a fruitful cooperation for both sides.

There is not either – or when work of police and CSO are in question, it is a joint work, Gerlad Tatzgern said, we have obligation to make contracts with CSO for victim protection and especially for trafficked persons, signed by the mister of Interior, and a big obstacle deleted – data protection. A special article in the police security law state that police can share and exchange all kind of information.

Gerald Tatzgern spoke about the linkages between Irregular migration, human smuggling and trafficking in persons. He gave an example of an area outside of city of Subotica near the Hungarian border with Serbia where persons are on the move to be smuggled to Romania and then to Hungary and Austria, and there are hundreds of migrants in this area. As he said, in identifying human trafficking victims in migration flow you need to sensitize the authorities closest to the migrants (asylum authority, medical professionals, CSOs, police). Identifying minors among migrants is also an important task for authorities, since they are forced by traffickers to pose as adults so they can move freely, leave the asylum center.

Astrid Winker from ECPAT Austria mentioned that during the migrant flow in 2005-2006 a report of EUROPOL showed a number of migrant children on the journey by themselves, went missing from various reception centers and part of the report recommendations was to have fingerprinting of younger children. The discussion on CSO level was big, but they learned that without fingerprints there is no chance to trace the young person, and currently the age limit legally is 14 in the asylum procedure.

Eva Kaufmann from Lefoe IBF gave an introduction to the Austrian Institutional framework in combating human trafficking, adding that Victim protection organizations LEFOE-IBF and MEN-VIA offer 24/7 emergency line for specialized police and identified victims, shelter and protection, care and counseling, translation and cultural mediation, support in court procedures (free legal aid), support in getting documents, legal stay and support for safe and voluntary return.

Astrid Winker from ECPAT Austria spoke of the national coordination mechanism, in which the main body is the national Task force on combating trafficking in human beings, where all ministries are taking part, but also 9 federal provinces are represented. Apart from the official bodies there are few CSOs that either are intervention centers providing care for victims, as Eva mentioned that is LEFO-IBF and MEN-Via, there is also the Ludwig Boltzmann institute for human rights, and ECPAT Austria, which has a focus on sexual exploitation of children and child trafficking within the child rights violation.

Astrid Winkler mentioned that there is still a struggle to provide same state of the art care for children. The one center is in Vienna – under jurisdiction of Viennese youth and child welfare department is only for children and youth identified and presumed victims of trafficking in Austria. As she said, after discussing this a 1,5 ago the working group found a committed partner, SOS-Kinderdorf who jointly developed a concept for such a care center for children as presumed victims of trafficking in line with security standards. She expressed hope that by next year funding will be secured to start with the pilot phase.

Nermina Fakovic, Head of Department for preventive health care and Cоordinator for equal opportunities for women and men in the Ministry of Health of North  Macedonia, gave an introduction to human trafficking and the Macedonian Institutional framework. As she said the phenomenon of trafficking in human beings is a serious and organized crime on a global scale and at the same time it is the most flagrant violation of the human rights and freedoms of the affected persons.

As Nermina Fakovic emphasized, the establishment of the National Unit is assessed as an exceptional progress in strengthening the institutional framework for combating THB and IM. Therefore, the institutionalization of this unit is one of the strategic goals, in order to enable its sustainability in the institutional framework for THB and IM.

Adressing the topic of general indicators for preliminary identification of suspected and potential victims of human trafficking, Nermina Fakovic said that it is necessary to understand the process of indetification, a process by which information is obtained through a series of indicators (interviews, corroborative evidence, etc.), based on which an assessment is made whether the person is a victim of human trafficking.

Eva Kaufmann speaking of the general indicators for initial / preliminary identification of suspected and potential victims of human trafficking, said they are not much different in Austria from North Macedonia  showing that the same thing is happening internationally.

Children on the streets, whether they are victims of human trafficking or not, are exposed to various risks. In most countries, many children actually live on the streets, sleeping in parks and crossings, bridges, situation common on the streets of North Macedonia, explains Nermina Fakovic. When it comes to the protection of child victims of trafficking, it should be noted that not so long ago children were recognized in international law as a sensitive and specific category for the protection of which the usual mechanisms used in the fight against trafficking are not sufficient.

We need to work together internationally to identify and support vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking and modern slavery, Nermina Fakovic emphasized and sharing information is vital. This work should include: cross-border investigations and assessments, liaison with social welfare services abroad although there are factors hindering international co-operation in criminal investigations and prosecutions such as communication with different language partners, differences in legal and political traditions, as well as fear about cooperation with colleagues from another country. Therefore it is necessary to eliminate and overcome these shortcomings for international cooperation and for it to run smoothly, Nermina Fakovic concluded.

Speaking about protection of children in risk of being trafficked, Eva Kauffman said that unlike in North Macedonia, in Austria there are not many street children, and maybe the cases of children being on the street when others are at school may be a similar situation but those are not children living on the streets just brought there by the trafficker for begging or pickpocketing. She said that important measures are sensitizing the police and other official bodies, and that all trainings concerning THB contain part on trafficking in children, workshops concerning trafficking in schools, non-punishment mechanism which helps children and young persons to speak up about abuse even if they had to work as pickpockets or committed other offences, and higher penalties for trafficking in children.

Speaking about compensation –legal regulations, finances, Eva Kauffman said that although there are procedures how victims can ask for compensation, very seldom compensation can be paid.

Natasha Dokovska shared the experience in North Macedonia regarding compensation –legal regulations, finances. For CSOs is especially important to monitor the period of reflection, Dokovska said, knowing that even before victims are formally identified as such, they are entitled to a minimum 30-day recovery period to escape the influence of traffickers and consider their cooperation with authorities in the investigation of the crime of trafficking in human beings. CSOs like JHR and other we cooperate with, often discuss if and how the law on compensation is implemented, there is no information if and how much money is being given to victims so far and if the principle of reflection is being respected, Natasha Dokovska concluded.

It was stressed that all the examples shared by CSOs LEFOE-IBF, ECPAT Austria, but also from institutional perspective shared by Gerald Tatzgern  from the Central Office for Combating Smuggling and Human Trafficking – Joint operational office (JOO), show that challenges exist even in Austria, not only in Macedonian context and there is a lot to be worked on both on institutional and on CSO and media level.