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INDIFFERENCE AS THE FUEL OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING: on the field with ASTRA Anti-trafficking Action NGO

My name is Martina Paolelli and I am a recent graduate student from the Master of Arts in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance. I have always been passionate about and involved in international politics, this interest of mine leading me to a Bachelor’s Degree in International Sciences and Diplomacy. Such academic background gave me the possibility to examine several subjects, making me realize which one I would have fought for in my life and career. During the first year of my Master I attended a lecture about trafficking in human beings: it was an immediate match.

After the aforementioned lecture, I decided to focus my final dissertation on trafficking in human beings along the Balkan Route and I applied for an Internship with the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development of the Johns Hopkins SAIS EUROPE, where I could widen knowledges by being part of the Human Trafficking Chapter. After this internship, I had the opportunity to continue my work with a partner organization, the NGO ASTRA Anti-trafficking Action, active from 2002 in Belgrade, Serbia. ASTRA’s aim is to give assistance to the victims of trafficking in human beings by rebuilding their identity and avoiding re-victimization. I spent one month in Belgrade for undertaking this internship, from the 13th of September to the 11th of October.

#Beograd, Square Slavija Bulevar Zorana Djindjica, Trg Slavija, Serbia

Before starting the internship I had a simple idea of what human trafficking was , its implications, scenarios and the actors involved. However, working directly with an organization on the field deeply changed my perspective. First of all, I was introduced to the Staff of ASTRA: every woman has a different task to fulfil. For example, there is the one entitled to coordinate the media and communications, the one responsible for the financial aspects and budget, the group that works directly in the field with victims. The principle behind ASTRA is the Direct Victim Assistance, designated to give direct help to the survivors by boosting education, prevention and research. I worked in ASTRA for writing my experimental dissertation, so I mainly took care of research and I organized documents. While I was writing, I had the opportunity to learn how anti-trafficking NGOs works in this field and the crucial role of NGO policy work and influence in the international and national anti-trafficking structures.

One of the most important achievements of ASTRA is the creation of the SOS Hotline, a h24/7 mechanism that gives the possibility to the victims to denounce an abuse by speaking directly to Staff. I was introduce to the functioning of this apparatus, seen by my colleagues as the “window on reality check”, for immediately assisting victims. I want to be sincere, sometimes it was hard to constantly read testimonies of victims about how they were exploited and deprived of their humanity and identity. But this made me conscious of how our contribution is for combating human trafficking. During my permanence in Belgrade, I noticed many shortcomings concerning the implementation of practices. ASTRA has to face issues such as funds (the organisation is completely reliant on donors) and this brings us to another problematic: the non-compliance with institutional practices. Fundamental Rights are often jeopardized due to lack of knowledge about trafficking and willingness to change the current situation. Among the many things I learned in Serbia the one I wish to stress the most is the value of dialogue. While I worked in this NGO, there was a continuous exchange of points of views and visions, implementing the multi-level cooperation.

The final dissertation, after graduation

Overall, this experience was inspiring. I understood that when we turn a blind eye to abuse, this abuse continues. For this reason, speaking about human trafficking and spreading awareness about this violation is paramount. ASTRA is doing a remarkable job in combating exploitations and it was an honor for me to be part of this change. This internship corroborates my enthusiasm and aspiration to continue, highlighting the importance of field work. ASTRA not only helped me with my dissertation, it emphasized the tools we have for combating human trafficking, like education, prevention, and last but not least, humanity.

Written by Martina Paolelli

Edited by Alex Frattin

Pictures courtesy Martina Paolelli


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