Here's a brief report from Interpol's conference on human trafficking this week, hosted in Syria. It's a good snapshot of the huge nature of this horror.

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Human trafficking a 'global epidemic', Interpol chief says

Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent
SATRURDAY, JUNE 12, 2010

Damascus // Human trafficking has become a "global epidemic" and will probably increase in the face of rising poverty and insecurity, the head of Interpol has warned.

Khoo Boon Hui, the president of the international police organisation, said a series of refugee crises and economic problems had created fertile ground for crime syndicates trading in people.

"Trafficking of human beings is a high-profit, low-risk activity, and this provides a strong incentive for criminals," he said. "It's a multibillion-dollar business that helps sustain organised crime. It is estimated to generate around US$32 billion [Dh118bn] in annual profits.

"Smuggling and trafficking provide huge returns on investments because the networks involved have a seemingly limitless supply of customers."

Mr Khoo made the remarks at Interpol's first international conference on combating human trafficking, which opened in Damascus yesterday. Delegates from across the world were present to take part in the three-day meeting, designed to foster international co-operation and help formulate a global anti-trafficking action plan.

The United Nations estimates that there are 2.4 million victims of illegal human trafficking at any one time worldwide, half of whom are children. Many are used as labourers or sold into sex slavery.

International agencies say the trade in humans has now become the world's third most profitable criminal activity, after drugs and weapons smuggling. According to Interpol, the three activities often go hand in hand, with criminal groups shipping narcotics, guns and people.

Efforts to stop trafficking have been hindered by the criminal networks' professionalism and their international scope, Mr Khoo said, as well as difficulties in bringing prosecutions because witnesses were often too afraid to give evidence. In addition, he said, legal loopholes are exploited by human traffickers to avoid punishment in various countries.

"As the world's population increases and more people live on the verge of poverty, there will be mounting pressures for more people to seek greener pastures and find a better future," Mr Khoo said.

"This will drive human trafficking syndicates to look for more innovative ways to exploit the poor. The law enforcement community can no longer rely on traditional ways to fight this scourge. We need to adopt non-traditional approaches. We need to innovate to stay one step ahead."

Syria, hosting the Interpol conference, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees since the US-led invasion of 2003, unknown numbers of whom are believed to have been trafficking victims, especially women and children forced to work as prostitutes.

The growing number of domestic workers in Syria, many from Asia, has also prompted increased concern here about trafficking.

In response, the Syrian authorities passed new laws this year designed to increase monitoring and interdiction of people traders. Under the legislation even those considered to have incited human trafficking can be prosecuted, and there is no requirement to prove physical coercion to obtain a conviction.

The Syrian ministries of interior and social affairs are also establishing specialist anti-trafficking units, including a rehabilitation centre for victims.

The Syria's prime minister, Naji Otri, who addressed the Interpol conference yesterday, said the country was modernising its laws to prevent what he called the "new slave trade".

He also urged that the underlying causes of human trafficking – poverty and war – be addressed, saying that was the only truly effective means of dealing with the issue. "In addition to the strict [policing] measures that should be taken, prevention requires that we dry the sources of trafficking through reducing regional and international conflicts, finding peace settlements and boosting the economies of the poorer countries.

"This is the responsibility of the rich countries and the costs of this kind of prevention will be much lower than would otherwise be spent on combating this crime."

Established in 1923, Interpol is the world's largest international police organisation made up of 188 member countries, including the United States, Russia, India and China. It allows for co-operation between national police forces dealing with cross-border crimes.

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Let's cause a TRAFFIC JAM and put a stop to this heinous trade.