​​​​NIJ Audio Transcript: Interview with Turkish Judge Altuntas on Human Trafficking

Jolene Hernon: Good morning. This is Jolene Hernon. Today’s NIJ podcast, June 2007, is an interview between Dr. Cindy Smith, who’s the director of the NIJ International Center, and Dr. Ilknur Altuntas, a judge from Turkey. Dr. Altuntas is on a professional affiliation with NIJ as a Humphrey Fellow. She and Dr. Smith today are talking about human trafficking, in which Dr. Altuntas has great expertise in Turkey.

Cindy Smith: Good morning, Dr. Altuntas.

Ilknur Altuntas: Good morning.

Smith: I’d like first to start this interview with a discussion about Turkey’s position with regard to human trafficking.

Altuntas: As you know, as a modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking impacts every continent and region of the world. Turkey — constituting a bridge between East and West — is a leading destination country. Turkey is portrayed by traffickers as a land of wealth and promise. Victims in Turkey are mostly women and young girls from Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia; more than half of the victims are from Moldova and Ukraine. They want to come to Turkey to make money to support their families. After their arrival, their passports are taken away by traffickers, and they are forced to work in the sex industry.

Smith: Only in the sex industry?

Altuntas: Generally, yes. Most of the victims are working in the sex industry. We do have labor cases, but not many.

Smith: What steps are you taking to combat trafficking?

Altuntas: Having ratified the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its additional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Turkey primarily criminalized human trafficking in 2002. And as the Penal Code is fully amended now, Article 80 of the new Penal Code sets out the definition of human trafficking and prescribes imprisonment for a term of 8 to 12 years and a judicial fine (corresponding 10,000 days).

In 2002, a National Task Force was set up in order to ensure an effective mechanism to combat human trafficking. A National Action Plan has been prepared by the National Task Force and approved by the Prime Ministry. Protection of victims and their rights to physical, psychological and social recovery must be given the highest priority. This includes safe housing, legal counseling and information, in particular regarding their legal status, in a language that the victims can understand. And also medical and psychological assistance and material assistance.

In the framework of the National Action Plan, two shelters were established for the victims: one in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city, and another in Ankara, our capital city. These shelters have been operating by [non-governmental organizations] NGOs. We also have a helpline service — “157” — for the victims.

The Ministry of Health provides free medical treatment to the victims and the Ministry of Interior issues temporary residence permits for the victims’ rehabilitation. The duration of the permit is up to 6 months, and it can be extended for a further period. Police officers, judges and prosecutors have also been receiving training on counter-trafficking. With regard to awareness-raising in Turkey, leaflets including necessary information and the helpline service “157” have been designed in order to inform foreigners. These inserts are being distributed at the border gates and the airports. Also, working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Turkey has launched a nationwide awareness-raising campaign called “Have You Seen My Mother?”

Smith: I’m thinking about the safety of the victims. Once you identify a victim, if that victim wants to stay in Turkey or wants to return home, what is that process?

Altuntas: It depends on the victim. If they want, after they are identified as a victim, they can stay in Turkey. As I mentioned, we have shelters for that, and law enforcement officials are working very closely with NGOs and IOM. If they want to return to their country of origin, Turkish police officers help provide safe return of the victims. They escort the victims at the airport, and they directly get in the plane. Immediately they inform their colleagues in the country of origin because it is important for victims that their law enforcement official meet them at the airport. It is very important because traffickers have links in their country and it can be dangerous for them. So there is a close cooperation and always victims are being escorted by law enforcement officials.

Smith: I think that’s a very important finding because in other research I have seen that the traffickers often come from the same hometown as the victims for many of the smaller organizations. So they know the family, they know the town, they know maybe even the law enforcement officials of that town. And so the safe return of a victim would be very important.

Altuntas: Very, very important.

Smith: That’s very interesting that your country is going to provide for the victims — their psychological, their medical, housing, and all of these others. That’s very expensive, and the more victims we find, the more costly that will become. I think that’s an issue we’re just now starting to work with here in the United States — where does that funding come from? How can we sustain it if we find a lot of victims?

I’d like to know a little bit more about your “Have You Seen My Mother?” campaign. Could you provide a little information about that?

Altuntas: Of course. The latest report shows one in three women trafficked to Turkey have kids. Therefore, this campaign concentrates on mothers who are victims of trafficking. The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness of human trafficking’s impact on children and families, to change the perception of a trafficked person, to address broader social consequences of human trafficking, and to make people think “What happens to children of traffickers?” The advertisement entitled “Have You Seen My Mother?” is focused on four children from the former Soviet Union in search of mothers trafficked to Turkey. Thirty-second commercials run on 27 Turkish TV channels and 20 theatres and cinemas. We also use the posters on buses in the hotspots of human trafficking, such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Trabzon.

Smith: That’s interesting that so many of the trafficked women into Turkey are mothers as well as old enough to have children that are old enough to be in this campaign. It dispels that myth that many of our trafficked women are very young girls of 14 to 16, 17 years old. In fact, what is the age and the gender profile of the victims in Turkey?

Altuntas: In Turkey, sexual exploitation is the predominant one because of its great profits for the traffickers. Most of the victims are 18- to 24-year-old women, and they are almost all foreigners.

Smith: Wow. As a destination country then, coming from international trafficking, does Turkey cooperate with those countries of origin?

Altuntas: Yes, yes. Turkey is party to Transnational Organized Crime and its additional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking, Especially Women and Children. Turkey also signed a Cooperation Protocol with the leading countries of origin, such as Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, in order to investigate trafficking cases effectively and provide assistance to victims.

Just three months ago, as a result of the international operation called “Orchid,” with the involvement of 100 police, 40 victims were rescued and 65 suspects were apprehended, unfortunately four of whom were law enforcement officials. Victims were from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This shows the importance of international cooperation with regard to human trafficking.

Smith: As we near the end of our conversation, do you have any final remarks on combating human trafficking that you feel are particularly important?

Altuntas: Yes. Since human trafficking has international dimensions, undoubtedly it cannot be prevented by each state. No matter how good national measures only, international cooperation is inevitable. The battle against trafficking in human beings requires well-designed, coordinated and comprehensive responses. Human trafficking has no place in our country and in our world. By becoming more aware of the problem, all of us can help to eradicate this modern-day form of slavery.

Smith: I have one final question. As I thought about what you’ve said and all of the services that you’re providing, and all of the international cooperation and the costs that are associated with this, and budgets are very short these days with so many problems in the world. If you had to pick one thing about trafficking, about the projects to fight trafficking, what would you pick? What would you implement to make the largest impact?

Altuntas: I can say that the establishment of helpline services is the most important one from my point of view because this helpline is considered an important step towards the rescue and protection of trafficking victims. It is an essential part of a national and regional strategy to combat human trafficking. This hotline has been operating in Turkey — we have “157” as I mentioned before — and it has been operating by Russian, Romanian, English and Turkish-speaking operators. This number can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by dialing 1-5-7 on any phone, including mobiles. And the helpline also provides information for individuals who may be at risk for trafficking. This includes information on visas and procedures for safe return home. IOM, in close cooperation with the Turkish government, is conducting a multi-country promotion campaign in key nations in Eastern Europe, Turkey and the former Soviet countries. As the first multi-country effort of its kind, the promotion campaign includes television advertising and distribution of passport inserts. I believe that this is really, really very important in terms of the rescue of the victims and assisting the victims.

Smith: In fact, in one of my conversations with some of your law enforcement in Turkey, they suggested that the “157” has been one of their best leads for finding trafficked victims because the “Johns” of the sex industry were calling the “157” to report trafficked women as opposed to prostitutes when they discovered that they had been provided with a trafficked woman. I find that to be very interesting and very hopeful.

Thank you so very much for your opinions today and for your thoughts and your experience and knowledge from Turkey.

Altuntas: Thank you so much.