Monday, February 13, 2006

False promise

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Translated from Dutch into English
also read:Radio interview with Anna Ziverte
Tatjana from Bulgaria

Viva, early 2005. Writer: Unknown.

Anna Ziverte came from Latvia to the Netherlands as a 22-year old law student. She could work her as an au pair, so she was told. In reality she fell into the hands of human traffickers.
“They showed as pictures of our children. Recent pictures; my son whore little boots which I bought right before my departure to the Netherlands. If I didn’t do what they wanted, they would kill me. I had no choice.”
Anna and I arranged to meet in office premises next to a canal in Amsterdam. It is one of the shelters of Atalantas, a self-help-organisation for victims of human trafficking founded by Anna [along with journalist Ruth Hopkins]. The address must be strictly secret, because Anna and the other members of the association are threatened to be killed. By human traffickers. And by the pimps who she once worked for. She tells about her past life in Latvia, about her now 10 year old son and her parents with who she lived at that time. Together with Solvita, her [lady] friend [not a dyke] Anna was supposed to work for a month as an au pair in the Netherlands. They called it a ‘cultural exchange’ at the Latvian mediation office which the two women found through an advertisement. Officially registered au pair organisations didn’t exist at that time in Latvia, but the fact that the office was in the centre of the capital city, next to ministries and police-stations, gave Anna and Solvita the impression that everything was fine. “It looked very trustworthy. Everybody was nice. Throughout the whole office there were photos and letters of thanks of au pairs and families.”

Five silent menAnna could work at a Russian speaking family in Rotterdam. Solvita at a family nearby. They requested specifically for that. They handed over their passports, their visas were arranged, and a couple of weeks later they were on a bus to the Netherlands. Along their way they met the 27 year old Lena, a married woman and a mother of two children who also went to Rotterdam to work a an au pair. “In the Netherlands we were collected by Daiga, our contact of the Latvian mediation office, and one Ruud. They took us to their house, where we could sleep to recover from our long journey. The next morning we actually didn’t go to our host families; Daiga and Ruud brought us to a room where five men awaited us. On a table lied weapons. And then they showed as the photographs.”

The atmosphere was depressing and the silent men had a menacing attitude. We barely dared to look at each other. Suddenly Solvita started to talk agitatedly to Daiga. “What’s happening? What are those men doing here?” Daiga didn’t respond and her eyes were fixed on the carpet. Then Ruud started to talk. Without looking at us Daiga translated Ruud’s words: “There is no job as an au pair. You will go to a club.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Club?” asked Solvita.
“A sexclub.”
I burst out laughing. “Me? In a sexclub? Never!”
(…) I started to scream out of fear and impotence. “I do what I want. Nobody can detain me and if you do, I’ll go to the police.” Meanwhile Solvita got ready to leave, but one of the man grabbed her and pulled her veraciously back by her hair. She squealed. “Silence,” he hissed and suddenly I saw a gun in his hand. (from: ”Valse Belofte” [False promise])

The three women were to work for three months in prostitution, then they were allowed to go home, the men promised. The women had no passport, no money, and spoke no Dutch. Anna’s only hope was that the traffickers spoke the truth and that they could go back to Latvia after three months. “We were brought to the sexclub in the heart of Rotterdam. Afterwards I learned that de Ritz was a legal club, but not one woman worked voluntarily. [comment: Matter of fact, the Ritz still exists. You can find it on the ‘s-Gravenburgwal. At the moment Ziverte was forced to work in this club the club was owned by members of the notorious Milliardair gang described in the book ‘Ze zijn zo lief meneer’ written by Chris de Stoop.] I did things I never expected I would do. I was a robot. I only thought about myself and my child, not a moment about Solvita. After a couple of weeks she was sold to an Arab, who also trafficked women in Russia and Lithuania. I have never seen her again. Also Lena disappeared without a trace. She didn’t make enough money and became ill. I believe they killed her.”

French fries and alcoholAt the sexclub Anna and the other women were told that it was normal they worked there. Even the police knew about it. Even worse, they often dropped by. But never Anna or one of the other women were approached. And she never dared to approach a police officer for help. “In Latvia the police is very corrupt. Why should it be different in the Netherlands? I could trust nobody.”
Anna slept with four other women in one room of the house of her pimp Ruud, who she had to pay 400 Dutch florins each month for a matras. He forced the women to call to their parents and say everything was fine. Once in every three days Ruud brought them some French fries and they could eat something in the sexclub. Anna lost 10 kilos in one month. “Alcohol, that was served continuously. Were were continuously intoxicated.”

With an unhappy expression on my face I was sitting at the bar. Apparently there are men who fall for such a posture, because a young, well-dressed man started to chat with me. While we were sitting there, I saw Solvita go upstairs with a man. My heart thumped in my throat. I didn’t want to know. My guest spoke little German, and my English wasn’t my strongest trait. At the end we didn’t understand each other, but he was friendly and he indicated he wanted to go upstairs. On the toilet I swallowed another glass of whiskey. While trembling I led him upstairs. The rooms where warm and actually very cosily furnished. On the table there were condoms and in the corner was a shower cabinet. The man undressed me and I felt shivery. “Are you afraid? First time?” I shook my head wildly. No, no, not the first time. (from: ‘Valse Belofte’)
After one and a half month Anna was sold without consultation to Paolo, a Yugoslav. Her luck: he was in love with her. “I knew I didn’t have to work as a whore anymore. I had no girlfriends, knew nobody except for him, but it was much better than in the sexclub. And I was in love with him too, I believed. He was my saviour. Moreover, he promised that I could see my son again.”
More than half a year later Paolo indeed wanted to go to Latvia with Anna. He offered to arrange a false passport, but Anna refused. “I wanted to confess everything to the police, so they could give me new travel documents. Indirectly we came in contact with somebody from the Criminal Intelligence Service. There I unknowingly made a testimony.”
To her great surprise Anna was locked up for three weeks after her statement. She got no interpreter and nobody told her why she had to go to prison. After this, she was brought to a Blijf-van-mijn-lijf-huis ['stay-off-my-body-house', a shelter for battered women]. A Dutch co-occupant who on Anna’s request read her dossier, discovered that she didn’t make a statement, but instead had reported a crime. “She said: ‘Anna, you are deep in the shit.’ My life was in danger, I understood, because the perpetrators not only were told that they had been reported, but also who has done that. But I didn’t want to report nobody! I wanted to forget everything and start all over again.”

One night a woman was brought in. (…) When the light fell on her face, I was scared out of my wits. It was one of the women of a human trafficker and a feared criminal from Rotterdam. I have met her regularly both together with Ruud and Paolo. “Anna?” She recognized me immediately and was visibly terrified. “Are you still here? Are you still in the Netherlands? What are you doing here in God’s name?” (…) “They are evil, Anna,” she panted anxiously. “Be careful. Be very careful. That report to the police was very stupid of you. They never let you go…” (from:’Valse belofte’)
For Anna there was no road back. Fleeing to Latvia was no option, because the perpetrators knew her address and that of her parents. The Netherlands was the safest place; here she could hide in blijf-van-mijn-lijf-huizen and the police knew of her situation. Every day I lived in fear. My parents still don’t know what happened; I call them regularly, but I stayed superfluous. The less people know about me, the better. I trust nobody.”

Different hair-colourAnna was placed under the B9-arrangement: in exchange for cooperating with the judiciary victims of human trafficking get a temporary residence permit. Anna caught eyes with the perpetrators several times in court. When the cases are resolved, the ‘B9-women’ must go back to their own country. Not a nice prospect, because there’s nobody there who can guarantee their safety. Staying in the Netherlands also has its downsides. Victims are not allowed to work, even when their case is going on for years. Moreover, family reunification is not part of the arrangement. Anna: ”I was loosing it. I was here already for five years, I desperately wanted to work, but it wasn’t permitted. But the worst thing was I couldn’t see my child. That’s why I moved him illegally to the Netherlands 5 years ago.”

My lawyer, a mother herself, understood my desires. (…) “How long haven’t you seen Edij?” I told her that in the meantime he called my mother mamma. (…) She nodded, took a deep breath and her eyes wandered through the room. Suddenly she looked at me with narrowed eyes, she looked at the ground and suddenly looked at me with an intense expression and said: “Go get Edij”. It became silent in her room. I gave her a questioning look. “get him over?” [from: ‘Valse belofte’]
Anna has moved three times and she regularly changes her clothing style and hair colour. She and her son always speak Dutch, on the street and at home. He has his own passport and a different surname. Eight years after her report of the crime, now two years ago, Anna’s criminal case was finished. She had to leave the country. She wanted to appeal against this, but her lawyer let her down on the last moment. “I have lived her illegally for seven months, until Latvia became part of the EU in May 2004 and I could live and work here legally. In the meantime I worked as an assistant in a lawyers office. Illegally yes, but everybody knew. We have a perfect toleration policy in the Netherlands.”

Threatened by a pimpIn 2003 Anna and several other women were invited to speak to members of the Dutch parliament about their experiences. That experience got things going: she decided to convert her story into the book ‘Valse belofte’[‘False promise’] and together with other women she founded the association Atalantas. “We realised that in the whole of Europe there is not one organisation where victims of human trafficking could turn to. Arrangements and laws are formulated, but we are never asked a thing. While the B9-arrangement is just not working in practice. Women only have three months to think the matter over. But they are never told [that they can think the matter over for three months]. I haven’t heard anything about that either. We are used by the police and the judiciary and at the moment they don’t need us anymore, we are expelled. Nobody bothers about the future and the safety of the victims.”
With her work for Atalantas Anna’s live hasn’t become safer. She doesn’t have a fixed office-location for safety reasons. “Last time I was threatened on the street by a pimp. But I’ll persevere. With everything I know, I can help so many women. If I can help only one person, I’m satisfied. But our most important message is that everybody could become a victim of human trafficking. But few people can believe I have went through all this. ‘You don’t look like a victim,’ they say. But we aren’t unskilled, naïve village girls. There are also many African women who have been frightened by voodoo. For us Europeans that may sound strange. But in Africa voodoo and spirits play an important role. Before their departure to the Netherlands women often are forced to swear an oath to the gods in which they will swear that they will work hard to pay off their debts. They don’t dare to stop, out of fear something terrible may happen.”
A solution would be a counter-ritual. For this purpose women can go the Christian Aid Resources Foundation (CARF) in Amsterdam, a small organisation who stands up against trafficking in women and forced prostitution. But also Dutch women fall into the hands of human traffickers. They fall in love with a loverboy [pimp who uses romantic techniques to persuade a woman or girl to work for him as a prostitute], or they are exploited by their own father, according to Anna. “But you don’t have to be just a victim. You can also fight. With Atalantas we will make sure women can feel human again.”

Nobody has insight in how the human trafficking network is built up. Victims know that the perpetrators and their accomplices always know where to find them. For me that means that I can’t and don’t dare to go to Latvia. I want to go home, but I can’t. At home, in Latvia, I have to keep silent about my past. Here, in the Netherlands, I can use my experiences to help other women build a new future. That’s my promise.[from: ’Valse Belofte’]
B9 and AtalantasThe B9-arrangement has two goals: prosecuting human traffickers and to shelter victims. But even when they have been in the Netherlands for years and years because the trial lingers on for a long time, at the end they are always expelled.
Atalantas, named after a Greek goddess Atalanta who by her speed could dodge unwanted men, has as the most important goal to improve the situation for everybody in the B9-arrangement and to change the conceptualization of the passive victim. The organisation supports her members in all their judicial procedures.

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also read:Radio interview with Anna Ziverte
Tatjana from Bulgaria

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