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They were like drunken animals. Since becoming independent from the old USSR in , Moldova's economy has shrunk by nearly 40 per cent. Hundreds of thousands of its 4. And then there is Marina, a victim of a Europe-wide network of trafficking in young girls for the sex industry. Aid agencies say that over the past decade up to 1, girls a year have been trafficked from Moldova into western saunas and sex bars. Many also end up in brothels in the Middle East and in Turkey.
Two months ago Marina an assumed name managed to escape from a brothel she was being held captive in in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. She is now back in Moldova, receiving treatment in a refuge for trafficked women run by the International Organisation for Migration IOM , a Swiss-based group founded after the second World War to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees.
Marina's hands go into frequent shaking spasms as she tells how, for the past two-and-a- half years, she was bought and sold by pimps and bar owners throughout the Balkans, traded like a modern-day slave. She smokes constantly. Both my parents drank a lot and were always arguing. She said she would arrange a passport and all the travel. Marina never made it to Italy. With another girl she was taken by car to the border and then by train to Timisoara, in the west of Romania, where she was locked in an apartment, her passport and other papers taken from her.
We were not allowed to even turn on the TV in case we were discovered. There were about 20 girls altogether. One night at 4 a. She struggles, shaking, to light another cigarette. Liuba Revenko, IOM's manager in Chisinau, says a few girls might realise early on what's happening, but most are so desperate for jobs in the West they ignore the danger signs. We've found that in the majority of cases these girls are initially recruited by women - often people they know and trust. In Timisoara, which traffickers seem to use as a gathering point for girls from around the region, there's a market where women are literally bought and sold like tomatoes or cabbages.
It's only when all this is going on the girls finally are faced with reality. They are in a foreign place. They've no papers. They don't speak the language. They can't escape. Marina was taken first to Belgrade in Serbia and then on a long overnight bus journey south to Kosovo.