Ihor Hnat challenges human traffickers
Ihor Hnat, a social worker and former journalist, is a man on a mission. His mission is to put an end to human trafficking. Everyday, he challenges traffickers in Europe by rescuing Ukrainian women that have been trafficked to be sexually exploited in Western Europe. From 1999 till 2010 he and his team have already saved 28 trafficking victims.
Ihor has recently founded the "Ukrainian Mission for the Rescue of Human Trafficking Victims in Europe", an organization devoted to the rescue and support of Ukrainian trafficking victims. The Mission aims to help Ukrainian citizens facing human trafficking related problems abroad. This is to be achieved through collaboration with state actors, media and NGOs all over Europe, but also through full-range support for victims and specific rescuing missions in extreme cases.
Ihor answered some questions for UN.GIFT about his fight against human trafficking:
What was the initial reason to start with your rescuing missions?
Early in 1999 my brother and I started by rescuing a Ukrainian girl on her way of getting trafficked to the Balkans, Yugoslavia. Our rescue mission succeeded and when we came back to Ukraine with her, I started to follow the situation of Ukrainians abroad. I questioned people whose relatives went to Western Europe to make some money. I wanted to find out about how they were doing. Besides, the mother of the girl we helped told people she knew about us. In such a way, a lot of people started hearing about our work. Later, I started being contacted by the relatives of women abroad themselves and being asked for help.
Why did you decide to set up an organisation after 10 years of work?
Frankly speaking, the only reason was money - programme budgeting. There's a lot of organizations that have never seen any victims of human trafficking. Those ones are doing nothing but printing posters and booklets and getting large sums of money from sponsors. Besides they're writing really nice reports on completed work.
A rescue mission of one person costs 5 000 to 10 000 Euros. It takes a lot of time too. No one is giving money for these missions. This is because some people think that human trafficking victims have to blame themselves for the trouble they get into. As long as I'm just Ihor Hnat, no one's going to give me any money. So I founded an organization, the "Rescuing Mission", and hope that I'll find sponsors soon.
Secondly, we've got a lot of experience in searching and rescuing people. We've got to know all Europe: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. We have a lot of friends abroad that help us. They are judicial and physical persons.
Almost all the rescue missions were made together with journalists of well-known European TV companies : Ray Uno - Italy; ZDF, ARD, WDR, RTL - Germany, SKINEWS, CT - Canada, Radio Liberty, INTER, ISTV, 1+1 - Ukraine. Now we have a proposal for a collaboration with CNN. We need constant funding. TV companies would finance just the rescue action, but not the searching process, which takes 90% of the whole mission.
What was the most dangerous situation you had to cope with during your missions?
The most dangerous situation was when we were rescuing a girl, whose mother had requested us to do so. We found the girl in a brothel in Poland. I met her pretending to be a brothel's client. I told her that her mother wanted us to help her. She was very glad and she said that she would be ready to escape the next day. I promised her that everything was going to be all right. The next evening we came back to the brothel and were ready for the rescue mission. But we got ambushed by her captors. When I entered the brothel, I was met by 5 guards with knuckle-dusters and truncheons. After I had met her, she told the brothel's owner that some people came from Ukraine and wanted to kidnap her. I lost 8 teeth and had a jaw fracture.
What do you think needs to be done to prevent trafficking in persons?
To prevent human trafficking a lot of things have to be done:
- revitalization of the police of all countries;
- highlight the human trafficking issue in mass media;
- introduce tougher penalties for human trafficking;
and a lot of other measures, as there are several types of trafficking, such as:
- girls in sexual slavery;
- men used as slaves for construction, enterprises and farming;
- kids that are going to be sold;
- women used as surrogate mothers.
Is there anything else you want to share on the issue of human trafficking?
It's obvious that in some European countries, the police is reluctant to investigate crimes committed against illegal migrants, because they are already seen as criminals. That's why human traffickers often go unpunished for all their doings. There is a pressing need to approach this problem.
Also read the intern's blog Ihor's mission.