Swedish Authorities Question Georgian Detainees’ Alleged Involvement in Human Trafficking

HELSINKI (RIA Novosti) — Officials in Sweden have questioned the alleged involvement in human trafficking activities of a group of Georgian nationals detained earlier this week by Finnish border police. Nils Eliasson, head of the Immigration and Security Department at Sweden’s Foreign Ministry, has been quoted by Swedish media as saying that there is no indication of the detainees being involved in such activities.

On Tuesday, March 15, Finnish border police apprehended four men and forty-eight women from Georgia at Vaalimaa checkpoint (Torfyanovka) as they were crossing into Finland with Schengen visas, issued by the Swedish Consulate in Moscow. According to the police, the women were to be sold into prostitution in several countries across Europe.

Eliasson has called this allegation into question, saying that most of those women are middle-aged, which makes it highly unlikely for them to be seen as a commodity on the sex market.

The Swedish Ambassador to Russia, Johan Molander, agrees that there was nothing suspicious about the suspects’ behavior. They are just shuttle traders, traveling to Europe for merchandise, he says.

The Finnish police insist, however, that they had every reason to arrest the travelers, who had set out on their European trip from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, but had had their visas issued in Moscow. According to them, there is an established criminal network trafficking women from Georgia into Europe via Finland, and the four men detained at the Vaalimaa checkpoint earlier this week may be part of that network. In the past three years, as many as 1,500 Georgian women have reportedly been trafficked through this checkpoint for sex trade in Europe.

The newly-apprehended women, aged 26 to 60, have been placed in an immigrant asylum while the men have been taken into police custody, and are under investigation.