Dreams of a better life often end in a brothel for the victims of human trafficking, with the people smugglers and slave traders who bring them there making a lucrative living from their misery.
Smuggled people need more rights in the country where they end up
Protecting trafficking victims' human rights in destination countries before and after they get away is one of the topics the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is looking at during a human trafficking conference beginning in Helsinki on Thursday.
"Special attention will be given to the protection of trafficking victims," Helga Konrad, the OSCE's Special Representative in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, said.
Figures on the number of internationally smuggled people vary greatly. A US State Department report in June estimated that 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, while other groups put the figure as high as 4 million.
The average estimate among international organizations is that about 2 million people taken out of their home countries each year, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Lured by false promises
Uta Ludwig and her colleagues at the Bella Donna victim advice center in the eastern German city of Frankfurt on the Oder, have seen many of the women, mostly from eastern Europe, who managed to escape from the clutches of their captors.
False promises trick eastern European women into leaving home
Located close to the German-Polish border, most women at the Bella Donna center are from Russia, Romania and Bulgaria, are between 19 and 22 years old and were lured away from home by false promises, Ludwig said.
Women like Oxana (name changed), whose boss in the Ukraine told her he organized a job for her in a Spanish bakery, and that a friend of his in Germany would help her get a plane ticket.
Everything is different away from home
But once in a foreign environment, the situation changes.
"I had to wait three days for my plane, he said it was Christmas and that too many people wanted to fly," Oxana said."Then he said I could get a job in Germany. He took me to a brothel and said 'This is your bakery, you can earn your dough here.'"
Stuck in a country where they don't speak the language and without any money, the women have few possibilities to get away from the people smugglers. Horror stories of what would happen to them at the hands of immigration keep them afraid of running away.
After three months, Oxana did manage to escape and told police about the women forced to work in the brothel. Evidence she gave at the trial helped in convicting the German man who forced her into prostitution. He was sentenced to four and half years in jail.
Talking with authorities isn't always safe
Testifying against traffickers is often dangerous for the women involved
Testifying also put Oxana in danger. She's afraid her old boss or her now-convicted pimp's accomplices will try to kill her. Because she was a witness in the case, Oxana is allowed to remain in Germany for the time being.
Other women are deported back to their home countries, Ludwig, of the victims' advice center, said. On average, they are allowed to stay for six months.
Better rights in destination countries
"What's needed here in Germany is a right to remain here," Ludwig said.
However, the women often do not want to stay in a foreign country, away from the support of their families, any longer than they have to.
"Most of these women want to go back," Ludwig said. "They don't want to stay in Germany and Germany always tends to block any discussion about a right to stay here."
The feeling that governments are unwilling to allow human trafficking victims to stay in the country is exactly what the OSCE conference hopes to change.
Some OSCE countries already have more accommodating rules. In Italy, victims are given both residence and work permits and in Sweden, the men who use forced prostitutes can also be prosecuted.
"The ultimate goal of all our anti-trafficking work, measures and activities must be a clear reduction of this horrendous crime and human rights violation," Konrad, the OSCE special representative, said. "Anti-trafficking initiatives must offer tangible prospects of escaping the cycle of poverty, abuse and exploitation."