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Ukrainian visas surge raises prostitution ring concerns

The number of visas issued by Malta to Ukrainians has doubled in the past 12 months, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry figures.

While in 2009, the number of short-stay visas issued to Ukrainians stood at 1,428, the figure has shot up to 2,866 so far this year.

As the EU last week started talks with Kiev on the possibility of abolishing visas for Ukrainians, this leap in the number of visas from Malta is raising eyebrows within the local police about Malta’s possible role in the prostitution rings operated by the Ukrainian Mafia.

The visas open the way for their holders to move freely across Schengen member states. On their expiry, their holders are supposed to return to their country.

Sources said there was a trend for visa requests to be made at short notice by young women wanting to “suddenly visit or study” in Malta.

The Maltese link to the East- European prostitution ring has long been established by local courts.

Besides a string of pimps being charged and sentenced over the past few years, in 2004 an immigration police constable, now dismissed, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and interdicted for involvement in the trafficking of girls for prostitution.

But attention to where Malta fits into the international picture is growing.

Last September, a UN affiliated international group against child prostitution and human trafficking called ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) singled Malta out as “a destination for women and children trafficked for sexual purposes” in a report about sex trafficking of children and young people.

According to the report, “Malta is primarily a destination country for women and children trafficking for sexual purposes from Eastern European countries such as Ukraine, Russia and Romania.

“Young women recruited for prostitution from Eastern European countries are essentially ‘purchased’ by Maltese men, according to law enforcement agencies.

Sometimes pimps intent on exploiting them for commercial sex act as intermediaries. These women can then often be ‘sold’ to other pimps or individuals who then continue the cycle; it is typical for trafficking victims to be ‘sold’ every three months under these practices,”

the report says. The group also claimed that “in many cases, these victims enter Malta legally on a tourist visa. In the case of victims of trafficking from Ukraine, various research points out that the majority of the victims are female and that trafficking occurs mainly for sexual exploitation”.

A former pimp, who had spoken to The Sunday Times in May 2008, had said women would be, “leased”, especially from the Ukranian Mafia, and brought to Malta until their visa expired, by Maltese pimps, who, at the time, paid a going rate of less than €1,000 (Lm429). Once here, they would work, seeing several clients a day, usually keeping less than 15 per cent of the money they earned.

A few years back the police had managed to stifle the racket with a number of successful busts. However, the problem keeps surfacing.

Just last year, Tarcisio Agius was jailed for a year and fined €450 after being found guilty of running a brothel at the former Berkley Hotel in Sliema. Among the four women found at his hotel selling sexual services, three were from Ukraine.

Last week, following an EU Ukraine summit, a road map for the lifting of visa requirements for Ukrainians was agreed. However, sources close to the European Commission said the eventual removal of visas was still “years away”.

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