The Republic of Moldova is a country of origin for human trafficking. In previous years, most victims from Moldova were sexually exploited, at the moment the situation is diverse due to the fact that multiple cases of labour and begging exploitation are recorded and assisted. The victims are women, men, girls and boys. While anyone can fall victim to trafficking, in Moldova women, children and the disabled were especially vulnerable to recruitment. According to actual trends, we should consider men as being the most vulnerable for organized criminal groups, for the purpose of labour exploitation. Hoping to find a better life abroad and to help their families, many migrants are lured by false promises and trapped by traffickers. To combat trafficking, the IOM Mission in Moldova is implementing a comprehensive Prevention and Protection Programme.

Assistance, Protection and Prevention

Identification is the first step in the assistance and protection process. If the identification of a Moldovan victim of trafficking happens abroad, IOM is contacted to arrange the return to Moldova. On arrival, the victim is offered the opportunity to go directly to the Centre for Assistance and Protection specialized in crisis assistance. Referral to the Centre can also come from within Moldova – from the police, from an NGO or, for example, through a social worker identifying a victim in their own community. However, as preventing a person from being trafficked is just as important as assisting and protecting the victims, IOM's counter-trafficking programme also caters for at-risk cases. These potential victims have a profile similar to that of victims prior to their trafficking experience – vulnerable families, children left behind, victims of domestic violence, unaccompanied minors, persons with a low level of education, and those from poor rural areas with minimal opportunities.

Through direct attention and assistance, women, men and children can escape the deceptive scenarios and false promises of traffickers. Catering for a wide variety of circumstances requires efforts from several organizations, institutions and individuals. The framework in Moldova for assistance cooperation was established by the National Referral System (NRS) for Assistance and Protection of Victims and Potential Victims of Trafficking. The NRS was designed to facilitate access to protection services by establishing and employing referral procedures for identified (potential) victims in order to deliver quality services provided by the cooperative actors in the field.

The Cornerstone of Assistance – The Centre

The Assistance and Protection Centre is a place of refuge from trafficking in human beings. Operational since 2001, the Centre provides temporary shelter to victims of trafficking and at-risk cases – women and children – in a safe and welcoming environment. Child victims of trafficking and children of beneficiaries are catered for in child-friendly surroundings. During their stay, beneficiaries are offered a wide range of services including medical, psychological, social, legal, educational and recreational services. Since 2008, the Center was institutionalized and became a public institution, subordinated to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection.

By the end of 2017, the number of victims of trafficking assisted by IOM and the Centre was 3,403, including 337 children. The victims were trafficked to Turkey, the Russian Federation, Cyprus, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. In addition, a great number of victims of trafficking were identified within Moldova, subject to labor exploitation. The number of potential victims assisted within IOM programme is of 15,190 beneficiaries, in the period 2000-2017.

Social Support

The Assistance and Protection Centre has a team of social workers who identify and address the needs of the beneficiaries, and a case manager is assigned to each beneficiary to ensure good coordination and an individualistic approach. The Centre provides beneficiaries with temporary accommodation, food, clothes, dishes, blankets, pillows, hygiene packages, and other items when necessary. Especially after an urgent rescue and repatriation operation, the beneficiaries often lack even the most basic necessities.

The programme offers activities aimed at developing life skills such as household tasks, time management and personal budgeting. Upon departure from the Centre, together with the case manager, beneficiaries develop a reintegration plan that is specifically tailored to each person. Reintegration plans are designed to empower the beneficiary as they begin a new chapter in their life by covering particular needs; the addressed needs vary from kindergarten fees, vocational training fees to monthly meal subsidy, from construction and repairing materials for a dilapidated dwelling to heating fuel for the winter, and additional support when needed.

Natalia, 33, was offered domestic work in a private house in Turkey by a friend of her partner. In May 2006, she flew to Istanbul where she was met at the airport by two men who took her to a village and forced her to provide sexual services. She was eventually discovered during a police raid and was arrested.

She returned home without documents, which a local NGO, together with IOM, helped her to obtain. She was also desperately in need of basic things such as food and toiletries, furniture, cookware, hygiene items, and clothes for her and her son, now seven years old and in the first grade. Utility bills were also paid and she received a television.

Natalia will need assistance for some time to come to cope with what has happened to her. However, what she has already received through the assistance of this IOM programme will allow her and her son to begin to rebuild an independent life while she works with social assistants to plan her future. The organization is also working to replace the documents Natalia lost abroad, without which she cannot find work. Once the documents are obtained, Natalia plans to earn money and to no longer be dependent upon outside help.

A donation of US $250 will buy clothes and shoes for a victim like Natalia, who has lost everything.

Psychological Support

After the horrific experience of trafficking, most victims suffer from various traumas – insomnia, depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress, personality disorder, neurotic disorder, and so on. Therefore, psychological intervention requires specific techniques, talent, patience and professional experience in order to restore the beneficiaries' confidence and self-esteem. Trained psychologists and social workers are always available at the Centre to support beneficiaries through individual counseling or group therapy sessions. Treatment begins with a professional assessment of the beneficiaries' mental health situation and is followed by the development of a plan for recovery and reintegration.

Ileana's Story

Ileana is a victim of trafficking who was sexually exploited and forced to beg in Russia. She was recruited in 2005 by a friend of hers, a former classmate, who promised a job for her in Russia. After two years of exploitation, Ileana managed to escape and was homeless for a while. It took her three months to return home to Moldova. When she turned up without any identification cards at the Moldovan border, the border guards contacted an NGO in Odessa, who referred the case to IOM. Ileana was picked up by IOM and escorted by a social assistant to the Centre, where she was received in September 2008. She was diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and received necessary psychological treatment.

This trafficking trauma was accompanied by another trauma from childhood. Ileana lost her parents at the age of 13 and was placed in a residential institution/boarding school. She had no positive examples to follow, as her older sister was a prostitute who suggested that Ileana do the same. Ileana can be characterized as having emotional instability, incapacity of decision making, lack of self-trust and trust in other people.

After three months of treatment provided with the support of IOM's programme, Ileana is feeling better, appears to be more confident and more secure, and is making plans for the future. She wants to receive professional training and wants to have her own home. However, she is still dependent on humanitarian aid. At the present moment, Ileana is living with her sister and trying to build a new relationship with her. In the near future she will begin some professional development courses.

A donation of US $50 will provide victims like Ileana with one month of food or hygiene products.

Medical Support

Victims of trafficking face serious health risks such as exposure to sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS), reproductive health problems (unwanted pregnancies, infections, etc.), complications associated with teenage pregnancies, physical trauma caused by severe violence, psychological and mental health disorders, communicable diseases (such as tuberculosis or hepatitis), as well as substance abuse problems. At the Assistance and Protection Centre, general practitioners, nurses, psychiatrists and other specialists provide emergency medical assistance to the beneficiaries. If and when further testing or treatments are necessary, the practitioners at the Centre will refer and accompany the beneficiary to specialized facilities.

Andrei's Story

Andrei, 22, is a victim of labour exploitation who was trafficked to a construction site in Russia in 2007. The conditions he was forced to work in were such that after suffering a spine fracture he did not receive the necessary medical care. As a consequence, Andrei became unable to walk or take care of himself. Following his repatriation Andrei was referred to IOM Moldova for medical assistance. Andrei began the rehabilitation process, and IOM staff identified a clinic where he could receive specialized treatment. Andrei's injury required spine prosthesis, and IOM provided the funds for the surgery. After a successful operation in December 2008, Andrei was able to sit up in a few weeks, showing the first signs that in the near future he will be able to walk. It will be a long road to recovery requiring significant effort on both Andrei's and the service provider's end; however, there is a strong will from both parties to achieve full recovery.

A donation of US $200 will assist in covering the costs of the basic medical examinations for a victim like Andrei.

Legal Support

Beneficiaries may require assistance for a broad range of legal issues: acquiring identification papers, child custody, compensation, divorce proceedings, property-related cases and other civil litigation. Beneficiaries returning home from exploitation abroad are in a particularly vulnerable position, as they may not have the legal documents that entitle them to state-delivered services. This is the case, for example, with children who are not registered at birth. The beneficiaries receive counseling on participating in the prosecution against their traffickers as well as legal representation during investigation, interviews and court hearings. This counseling also includes witness rights and protection services. The specialized services of legal assistance are provided in collaboration with local NGOs, such as the Centre for Prevention of Trafficking in Women, and with government agencies, especially the specialized unit, the Centre for Combating Trafficking in Persons.

Svetlana's Story

In 1999, through deception, Svetlana was taken away from Moldova and sold in Turkey where she was exploited and re-sold several times. In 2000, she was bought by a Turkish man who kept her in a private residence for six years. There she was exploited sexually and made to work for the man and his wife. Under these circumstances she gave birth to two children: the first was born in 2002 and the second in 2003. She gave birth in the place of exploitation, assisted by a neighbor, and did not therefore gain birth certificates for her children. Svetlana was saved by a Moldovan woman who helped her to escape and contact the police. During the time of her escape, Svetlana was five months pregnant with her third child. In June 2006, Svetlana was brought to Moldova with the help of IOM. In October 2006, Svetlana gave birth to her third child. With the help of IOM, Svetlana received an identification card and legal assistance in obtaining documents for her two children that were born in Turkey. In August 2007, both of the children received birth certificates.

Svetlana and her children now live in a flat owned by her mother. Through IOM's programme, Svetlana received additional financial support for her to be able to take care of her children. Svetlana received psychiatric and medical assistance. She was diagnosed with a disability and awarded a handicap classification. She now receives a handicap pension from the state and other humanitarian assistance. Her children attend kindergarten and she works as a dishwasher in a restaurant. The case of Svetlana and her children continue to be monitored by her case manager.

A donation of US $50 will pay for the restoration of legal documents a victim like Svetlana has had stolen from her.

Reintegration Support

Full rehabilitation would be incomplete without assisting the victim to reintegrate into their community with the necessary tools to build a new life. To ensure the success of the reintegration programme, beneficiaries are offered opportunities to complete their education, receive vocational training, attend apprenticeship programmes and develop income-generating projects as part of the medium- and long-term reintegration assistance packages. The vocational school “Island of Hope” (Insula Sperantelor) is one of IOM's main partners in providing professional training to beneficiaries. The school offers the opportunity to receive occupational training and assistance in entering the job market. During the period of 2003-2007, 350 socially vulnerable individuals referred by IOM received occupational training.

Ekatarina's Story

Ekaterina, 26, was raised and educated together with her five brothers by their mother, as their father had passed away. Her family was very poor; her mother was unemployed and the only income earned by the family came from working in the fields.

Due to the social and financial hardships Ekaterina was facing, she decided to look for better opportunities abroad and ended up being trafficked to Romania where she was sexually exploited for five years. After returning to Moldova, she was identified by an NGO and referred for further assistance to IOM. Through IOM's programme, Ekaterina received medical, legal, social and psychological assistance and was given the possibility to study a profession. She enrolled in cooking courses at the vocational training school “Island of Hope” (Insula Sperantelor), where she studied for six months.

During her first term of study, Ekaterina became involved in other activities such as life skills building, aerobics and cultural events. Through communication with her classmates and other students from the Centre, she began to develop more self confidence. She actively participated in all practical lessons and involved herself seriously in her studies. Following her graduation, Ekaterina was employed by a local candy factory.

Ekaterina has showed her impressive willingness to see the goals in her reintegration plan through to the end. By putting her knowledge into practice, she is paving the way to a brighter future.

A donation of US $50 will pay for the restoration of legal documents a victim like Svetlana has had stolen from her.

Priorities for the Future

Due to the hidden nature of trafficking and the stigma attached to victims by their communities, the real number of trafficking victims remains unknown. To combat this ever-changing phenomenon, the assistance programme is constantly being improved as the demand for assistance remains very high. An essential feature of counter-trafficking is raising awareness, including awareness of the changing methods of traffickers. The Government of Moldova is steadily increasing its ownership over the fight against trafficking, including financing of the running of the Centre and partially assisting financially the repatriation missions. However, in order to ensure quality services and effective assistance to identified (potential) victims, the Centre still requires constant support from donors and the coverage of repatriation expenses.

Project details

Start Date: Ongoing since 2000
End Date: No projected end date
Project Country: Republic of Moldova, including the region of Transnistria


Diana Donoaga-Certan
International Organization for Migration
36/1 Ciuflea Str., MD 2001
Chisinau, Republic of Moldova