Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Yorker: The CounterTraffickers

Stella Rotaru, at left, of the International Organization for Migration, with one of the group’s beneficiaries. Photograph by Bela Doka.

NEW YORKER MAGAZINE - Stella Rotaru’s cell-phone number is scribbled on the wall of a women’s jail in Dubai. That’s what a former inmate told her, and Rotaru does get a lot of calls from Dubai, including some from jail. But she gets calls from many odd places—as well as faxes, e-mails, and text messages—pretty much non-stop. “I never switch off my phone,” she said. “I cannot afford to, morally.” She looked at her battered cell phone, which has pale-gold paint peeling off it, and gave a small laugh.

Rotaru, who is twenty-six, works for the International Organization for Migration, a group connected to the United Nations, in Chisinau, Moldova. She is a repatriation specialist. Her main task is bringing lost Moldovans home. Nearly all her clients are victims of human trafficking, most of them women sold into prostitution abroad, and their stories pour across her desk in stark vignettes and muddled sagas of desperation, violence, betrayal, and sorrow.

Her allies and colleagues in this work are widely scattered. An ebullient Dubai prison officer named Omer, who calls Rotaru “sister,” has been a help. So have Russian policemen, an Israeli lawyer, a Ukrainian psychologist, an Irish social worker, a Turkish women’s shelter, Interpol, and various consulates and embassies, as well as travel agents, priests, and partner organizations, including an anti-trafficking group called La Strada, which has offices downstairs from Rotaru’s and a dedicated victims’ hot line.

Rotaru is often at the airport in Chisinau to meet those Moldovans who manage to get home with her help. In some cases, she goes to pick them up in Odessa, the Black Sea port in Ukraine—Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic, is half-encircled by Ukraine—where a twice-weekly ferry from Istanbul docks. If a victim’s family is also present, there may be little or nothing for Rotaru to do. Or there may be a lot.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT NewYorker.com

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