By Hovannes Shoghikian
The number of individuals imprisoned in Armenia for human trafficking and officially identified as victims of the illegal practice has more than doubled this year, a senior police official said on Friday.
According to Colonel Hunan Poghosian, head of a feared police department tasked with combating organized crime, Armenian law-enforcement authorities have prosecuted 17 persons on relevant charges during the first ten months of this year, up from ten such cases registered in last year. He said ten of those individuals have already been convicted and given prison sentences by local courts. The police reported only three such convictions in 2007.
Poghosian portrayed the police statistics as further proof of the toughening of the Armenian government’s fight against human trafficking. The government launched a new three-year plan of anti-trafficking actions late last year. The Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian also formed a special inter-agency body coordinating the crackdown.
The Armenian authorities began tackling the problem in 2004 under pressure from the United States which has repeatedly described Armenia has a major source of illegal transport of women for sexual exploitation abroad. But despite recent years’ government efforts, Armenia remains on a special “watch list” of nations which the U.S. State Department says are not doing enough to combat trafficking.
The police data show the number of mainly female Armenians officially recognized as “victims” of human trafficking soaring from 12 in 2007 to 37 in January-October 2008. Poghosian said 20 women have been sent this year to special rehabilitation centers run by two non-governmental organizations. One woman was repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, the main destination of trafficking victims, with the help of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, he said.
Poghosian also told reporters that the Armenian police have registered ten trafficking cases, virtually all of them involving sex trade, in the past ten months. Eight of them have already been solved, he said without elaboration.