Prostitutes `are migrant workers' '

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The Independent Online
Budapest (Reuter) - Prostitutes plying a lucrative cross-border sex trade in economical- ly-depressed eastern Europe should be treated as migrant workers, speakers at a conference in Hungary said yesterday.

"Prostitutes are ... migrant workers," said Nicoleta Druta, an official dealing with gender issues for the Romanian office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bucharest. "Not all prostitutes are forced into prostitution by pimps. They are forced by their economic situation ... to work abroad as prostitutes ...

"We cannot call them prostitutes any longer. We have to call them sex workers to change the way they are treated by the civil authorities," Ms Druta told a conference on trafficking in women sponsored by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Frank Laczko, Budapest representative of the Switzerland-based IOM, said the sex industry had changed in Hungary and western Europe. "It is increasingly dominated by migrant prostitutes who have absolutely no rights to even be living in those countries, let alone be prostitutes," he said.

"The thrust of policy is mainly to protect the community against the prostitution industry," Mr Laczko said on the opening day of the two-day conference. "It offers relatively little protection for the local prostitutes, and the issue of protection for migrant prostitutes is completely ignored."

Lieutenant Colonel Akos Borai of the Hungarian national police said a third of prostitutes working in clubs, massage parlours and other indoor venues in Budapest are foreigners, mainly from countries east of Hungary. "There could be 15,000 [foreigners]," he said.

He added that he thought Budapest had been unfairly portrayed as "the Bangkok of eastern Europe" for child sex activities. He said he knew of only "two or three such cases.

Lenke Feher, a lawyer from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said the collapse of Communism had ended the system of full employment and forced many women into prostitution.