Finnish authorities have seen a rise in the number of people seeking help as victims of human trafficking compared to last year. In a report released on Monday, the National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking said that up to the end of June, it had taken on 155 new clients who were potential trafficking victims as well as 37 underaged children related to them. That number is 50 percent more than the same time in 2018, when the organisation received 76 new clients.
The organisation is a unit of the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri. It said that most of the suspected human trafficking cases that come to light in Finland are related to forced labour and forced marriages – officials identified 12 instances of each.
In the case of forced labour, victims were set to work in restaurants or on farms against their will, while four forced marriages took place in Finland. In the other eight cases, the couples wed abroad while the brides were still minors and the abuse continued when the families arrived in Finland.
A 2017 study found that victims of forced marriages living in Finland – including Finnish citizens – are often sent abroad by their parents to marry. However the organisation said that it had not been contacted by any victims who fall into this category.
The organisation said in the report that seven of its clients had been victims of sexual abuse in connection with human trafficking. It noted that this was a decline on 2018, when the majority of victims forced into prostitution had been identified as a result of police operations.
It also reported that it had been contacted by victims forced into crime as well as panhandling.
Organisation concerned about reach
Just five of the people who claimed to be victims of human trafficking were asylum seekers, the data showed. The majority had come to Finland for family ties, as EU citizens, on work permits or otherwise as illegal immigrants.
The organisation noted that it does not itself seek out potential human trafficking victims. Clients are generally referred to it by law enforcement of municipal officials such as child welfare authorities as well as prisons or health care officials.
It added that while it received many referrals from the police in particular in 2018, this has not been the case in 2019, due to the continued scaling back of police resources. At the same time, it has also received fewer referrals from municipal sources.
"We are worried that we are not reaching human trafficking victims in Finland," it said in its report.
A report on human trafficking released by the Council of Europe in June found that the illicit activity had tripled in Finland between 2015 and 2018.