Slavery still exists. Human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion annually. Every 30 seconds someone becomes a slave. 98% of traffickers are never convicted. Over 27 million people are trapped in slavery.
Those slogans are not only numbers, they are facts. Walk For Freedom raises global awareness of humans who are trapped in slavery in the 21st century.
Everyone is enough, everyone is enough to be free. Victims are not mere numbers, they are human beings. Currently, around 40 million people live in modern slavery. Walk For Freedom is a silent demonstration that spreads awareness against human trafficking and it is organized by A21, a non-profit organisation which focuses on rescuing and finding recovery from slavery. The NGO works worldwide and organized the annual event which took place on Saturday, 19th of October 2019. So far, it was the largest Walk For Freedom being set in more than 50 countries: in cities, towns and villages all around the world. During the demonstration, campaigners are dressed in black, wearing an A21 shirt and walk in silence, one by one.
Marina Ntonoupoulou, the director of A21 here in Thessaloniki, tells us more about the reality of human trafficking in Greece and how crucial the work developed by the NGO is. A21 has been operating in Greece for eleven years now, having assisted around 310 cases in their shelters.
Regarding their National Human Trafficking Resource Line, 1109, to whom anyone can call anonymously, it is getting more well-known by the Greek population. Every week, A21 receives around thirty calls, some asking questions about human trafficking and what are the signs to look for, others to report something out of the ordinary, suspecting that it’s a potential case of trafficking. However, the most successful calls come from clients of the brothels, that are encouraged to call 1109 to report immediately any suspicion.
There are usually two cases of human trafficking in Greece. One of them, the more typical, is when the victim comes from Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Moldova, trying to find a better job but encounters a fake advertisement related to a job opportunity in Greece. When they arrive, these women are held captives by their traffickers who keep their identification documents. The second case, that has been witnessed in the last four years, are women coming from Congo, Nigeria and Cameron, who are sold by their families or lured by traffickers with false promises.
Likewise, young Greek women are in a very vulnerable situation ever since the economic crisis, as many families don’t have the money to support their kids that are studying, mainly daughters. When moving to a new city in order to study, these young women are persuaded to accept one client as they need money. However, when trying to reject the next offer, they are blackmailed with naked pictures of their bodies, for example.
When asked about a personal story of a survivor of human trafficking, Marina Ntonopoulou talks about the case of a mother that came from Moldova with her one-year-old child, through a false working advertisement. In Greece, her daughter was taken away from her and kept by the traffickers that told her that now she could escape. It was extremely hard for people to see her as a victim of human trafficking since she had some belongings such as a mobile phone and clothes, portraying her as a free woman. One night she decided to put at risk everything and run away, grasping the opportunity to do so while the trafficker was drunk. She took her daughter in her arms, calling the police and making it clear they didn’t have much time to come and take her. The operation started immediately and A21 was contacted right away.
Thessaloniki is not only a destination region but also a transit one. Due to its geographical significance, Marina Ntonoupoulou tells us that the city always played this role. As it was the main location for all kind of trades, unfortunately, sex trafficking was no different. Luckily, the work of A21 has been fruitful and people are getting more aware of the existence of Walk for Freedom and of the problem it tries to tackle.
Authors: Renata Diurczak and Inês Ribeiro