There’s a Greek proverb that says something along the lines of “the walls have ears.”
When I think about the things that happen behind locked doors, I wish walls had ears. Maybe, if walls had ears, they’d hear whispers, wails, and screams, and tell someone about it. Someone important. Someone who could do something. But walls don’t have ears.
A Nation in Crisis
Greece is in a very bad place. On June 30, the country defaulted on a 1.7 million payment to the International Monetary Fund. Banks across the country closed their doors as the government scrambled to find a fix. 3 weeks later, the European Union has approved a 7 billion loan that will allow Greece to pay 3.5 billion to the European Central Bank as well as pay off the International Monetary Fund. Following this news, banks will reopen on Monday, but the crisis is still far from over.
Trafficking in Greece
As Greece struggles to avoid economic collapse, the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people continues unabated. Human trafficking has plagued Greece for decades, and the situation is only getting worse.
Each year, nearly 800,000 people are trafficked from the Balkans, across the Turkish border, or via the Mediterranean to Greece. They come from Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Nigeria, and Asia and most will never return home again.
Women trafficked to Greece are forced to work in the brothels of Athens and other major cities. Migrants trafficked to Greece are often exploited through forced labor in factories, restaurants, farms, and geriatric care. Victims of forced labor in Greece are mostly children and men from Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, India, Moldova, Pakistan, Romania, and Poland.
It is estimated that 3,000 children are currently being trafficked in Greece. Many children from Roma communities in Albania and Romania are made to work on the streets, in domestic servitude or the sex industry. Some women in Balkan communities sell their babies to people who can’t legally adopt children or don’t want to abide by Greece’s adoption system.
A Roma woman from Bulgaria came to Thessaloniki and gave birth in a public hospital. She was accompanied by a member of the criminal ring, who posed as her relative. He paid her 3,000 euros, took her baby, and then sold the child to a Greek couple.
A Senior Police Official
Bad to Worse
In the U.S. State Department’s annual trafficking report, Greece was designated a Tier 2 country, which means the government is not fully compliant with the minimum protection of victims and the number of victims who’ve suffered severe abuse is significantly increasing.
Contributing to Greece’s trafficking crisis is Greece’s refugee crisis. On the island of Lesbos, 1,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan arrive daily. Nationally, it is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 refugees arrive in Greece each year. The current economic situation prevents the government from effectively addressing this influx of immigrants, and as the situation worsens, so does trafficking.
The country’s economic crisis has placed increased pressure on smaller anti-trafficking NGOs. Government funding has been inconsistent or has stopped completely and many small anti-trafficking organizations are struggling to remain open. As NGOs close their doors, it’s proving hard for trafficking victims to get the help they need.
However, the government failed to make all victim services authorized by the law readily accessible to trafficking victims. There was no shelter for male victims and no emergency shelter easily accessible for victims of trafficking.
U.S. Department of State’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report
The Walls Have Ears
If walls could speak, what stories would they tell us? Right now, behind closed doors in Athens and dim alleyways in Thessaloniki, what is happening? Is another woman being abused? Is another child being exploited?
The truth is, walls don’t have ears, but you do. You’ve heard and now it’s time to act. Walls can’t tell stories, but you can. Tell the story of the thousands of men, women, and children who are being exploited in Greece and maybe, with a little hope and a lot of work, their stories will not repeat themselves.