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Part III: Allegations of sexual slavery reach the highest levels of the Kosovo government.
Catering to the expat community
The three men involved in trafficking gave GlobalPost a rare look inside the criminal side of a trade that caters to Kosovar men and NATO troops and other international officials who have been in Kosovo in large numbers since 1999. All three men said that NATO troops, U.N. officials and other internationals working in Kosovo made up a significant proportion of the clientele for trafficked women, something repeatedly confirmed by anti-trafficking organizations. The former U.N. administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, regularly published an “Off-Limits List” of brothels, hotels, bars, clubs and other locations where staff were ordered to “STAY OUT” of. The 2008 spreadsheet lists 109 establishments and states: “By frequenting bars, brothels, strip clubs and night clubs, international representatives and by default their organizations are condoning and supporting the sexual exploitation and slavery of women and contributing to the profits of organized crime.”
Prostitution “is a state-sanctioned business with tacit approval of foreigners and for their enjoyment,” Rexhep said.
In recent years, the U.N., NATO, EULEX and the Kosovo police have improved their anti-trafficking efforts, according to trafficking experts and the State Department. But the demand from foreigners, and locals, remains strong, the three traffickers say.
To meet that demand, the three men and their colleagues in the organized crime world looked beyond Kosovo’s borders.
“We were mostly bringing girls from Moldova, Ukraine and Russia,” said Luan, 30, who started his criminal career as a thief in Germany and Switzerland before he became a trafficker. “But sometimes we also had girls from Serbia, Romania, Czech Republic.
“In each place there’s a man who’s specialized in finding and recruiting,” he continued. “They are either girls from rural places looking for a job abroad or waitresses or those who work in some kind of administration but are poorly paid. They would take them to cafes or pubs, seduce them or give them some dope for free, mostly hashish or marijuana and later something heavier. After gaining their trust or becoming lovers or just making them dependant on drugs they would offer them ‘good and well-paid jobs abroad’ and free drugs as well. Then I would go to pick them up, usually in Bulgaria, sometimes Serbia, Romania other places.
“For each girl I would pay 2,000 to 3,000 euros. I was mostly taking groups of three girls. They crossed the borders together like any other passengers and I was discreetly accompanying them while pretending I was travelling alone. Sometimes they would be sent to cross the border illegally, if they had problems with documents or because they were underage. That’s more difficult because they have to walk through the forests. I would usually wait for them on the other side. They had no idea what was going to happen to them once they were firmly in our hands.”
Once in Kosovo, the nightmare would begin for the foreign girls and women.
“We would take them to a town hall to register them for temporary residence from three to six months,” Luan said. “It depends on what deal we make with municipal authorities and if the girls are really good-looking they stay six months. Clients don’t like to [have sex with] the same women too many times so there’s a regular rotation. When we get them registered for temporary residence we take away their passports and send them to their respective places. Most of them work as waitresses, dancers or strippers till midnight or 2 a.m. After that they have to do the other part whether they like it or not.”
When asked what happened to the women if they refused to have sex with the clients, Luan said: “There’s no ‘no’ as an answer here. They know that disobedience is really bad for them so their unwillingness is never a matter of discussion. There is no chance to refuse. We usually tried to be nice to them and give them drugs like heroin to calm them down and relax them. Well, those who become addicts can’t say no to 'guests' if they want their drugs.”
Luan said the men who had bought the girls and women often beat them or burned them with lit cigarettes as a form of punishment and intimidation. Rexhep confirmed the violence that some of the women are subjected to. “Girls are generally treated well but sometimes they cause trouble or want to go home before the agreed time so they have to be disciplined,” he said.