Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Captive Freedom

By Ayesha Ahmad
October 12, 2008

I recently traveled to Albania.

Up until the late 1990’s Albania was under communist rule, its influence barely felt by other countries. Today, however, Albania has developed a reputation as one of the world's human trafficking hot spots. Autonomy and freedom are on the rise in Albania after the end of the communist era. The country’s poverty and the war in 1997 have led to a surge of people wanting to taste freedom, to escape the country’s shackles and pursue a better life.

On my trip I visited the city of Vlora. In this picturesque seaside city, a terrible tragedy occurred just fours years ago in 2004. A motorised dinghy transporting trafficking victims and operated by organised criminal gangs was attempting to cross the waters from Albania to Italy, a well-worn route.
In the peak trafficking years between 1997 and 1999, authorities say that as many as 10,000 people, mostly Albanians, illegally emigrated to Italy every year. The boat capsized. Frantic mobile phone calls were made from the trafficked victims to their families who were immobilised by panic and helplessness. A phone call was also made to the national TV channel in Albania begging for help to reach them. This help never arrived and 21 of the 29 passengers drowned.

Such instances were more frequent a few years ago. On the event that the police were spotted on shore in Italy, the Albanian trafficking victims were forced into the water by the gang member operating the boat. Many lives were lost as a result of this practice.

I spoke with some young Albanians not much older than myself. They had paid a great deal of money to be taken out of Albania into Greece illegally during the war. So many lives risked in the bid for freedom, yet the irony prevails each time. The ones that die during the journey perish with their dream of freedom intact. The ones that survive and make it to the other land, however, are held captive and enslaved.

Although they survive, their dreams of freedom perish.

From the U.S. Department of State

ALBANIA (Tier 2 Watch List)
Albania is a source country for women and girls trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; it is no longer considered a major country of transit. Albanian victims are trafficked to Greece, Italy, Macedonia, and Kosovo, with many trafficked onward to Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands. Children were also trafficked to Greece for begging and other forms of child labor. Approximately half of all Albanian trafficking victims are under age 18. Internal sex trafficking of women and children is on the rise. The Government of Albania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.

The Government of Albania is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking in persons over the past year, particularly in the area of victim protection. The government did not appropriately identify trafficking victims during 2007. It also has not demonstrated that it is vigorously investigating or prosecuting complicit officials.

Recommendation for Albania
Vigorously investigate and prosecute human trafficking offenses as well as law enforcement officials’ complicity in trafficking, and convict and sentence persons responsible for such acts; enhance training of law enforcement officials within the anti-trafficking sector; ensure full implementation of the national mechanism for referring victims to service providers; increase funding for victim assistance and protection services; draft and implement a new national action plan with participation from local anti-trafficking NGOs; provide anti-trafficking training for peacekeeping troops.


The Government of Albania did not provide convincing evidence of progress in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking during 2007. Albania criminally prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its penal code, which prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for rape. In 2007, Albania prosecuted 49 alleged traffickers and convicted seven human trafficking offenders. Seven of the prosecutions were for child labor trafficking. The sentences for convicted traffickers were appropriately severe, ranging from five years’ imprisonment with fines to 16 years’ imprisonment with fines. It is unknown if the government prosecuted and convicted additional traffickers under other statutes because the government does not separate crime statistics by trafficking offences. During the reporting period, regional anti-trafficking police units remained poorly trained and ill-equipped to effectively address human trafficking due to inadequate resources, the influence of corruption, and high turnover of police recruits. The government discontinued anti-trafficking training for new and continuing police officers, although training for judges and magistrates continued. Between June and July 2007, the government fired approximately 20 percent of its specialized and highly trained anti-trafficking police officers as part of an overall police restructuring effort. In three separate cases, the Ministry of Interior arrested 12 police officers accused of human trafficking in 2007, including six officers with direct responsibility for anti-trafficking at the border. Prosecutions of these cases and several other cases from the last reporting period remain ongoing.


The Government of Albania failed to consistently sustain efforts to identify, refer, protect, and reintegrate victims of trafficking during 2007. The government’s ability to fund protection and assistance services was limited; however, it operated one victim care shelter in Tirana. The government provided sporadic in-kind assistance to four additional NGO-managed shelters, such as the use of government buildings and land. In July 2007, all five shelters signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation and coordination among the shelters. In a change during this reporting period, there was an overall decline in the number of victims identified due to inappropriate application of the national referral mechanism for several months by anti-trafficking police. In 2007, the government identified only 13 women and seven children as victims of trafficking during the reporting period, a 25 percent decline from the 25 victims of trafficking reported by the government in the 2006 reporting period. According to the government and other observers, authorities identified as victims only those who proactively identified themselves as such. At the same time, however, NGO shelters reported 146 victims of trafficking during the reporting year. Victims are not jailed or fined for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. The Albanian witness protection program is available for victims of trafficking who participate in prosecutions; however, evidence suggests that the system is ineffective for victims of trafficking. In 2007, one young woman was re-trafficked to Greece by her trafficker’s brothers following her testimony that put him in prison. Child victims, many of whom were trafficked by their parents, were more often returned to their parents than placed in protective custody.


The Government of Albania implemented several anti-trafficking prevention activities but allowed its national anti-trafficking action plan to expire. The Ministry of Interior took over funding of the national toll-free, 24-hour hotline for victims and potential victims of trafficking from the UN Office for Drugs and Crime and IOM in November 2007. The Ministry of Education includes in its high school curriculum awareness of the dangers of trafficking. The government continued implementation of an anti-speedboat law, outlawing virtually all water crafts along the Albanian coast and leading to a significant drop in trafficking in persons to Italy, most of which has been accomplished in the past by boat. During the reporting period, communication between the government and NGOs improved following a period of strained relations. The national anti-trafficking coordinator and the police director-general held meetings with NGOs that led to improved communication between government and NGOs by January 2008, particularly at the border crossing points. As of March 2008, the government had not distributed a draft 2008-2010 national anti-trafficking action plan for comment to international partners and NGOs. The government did not provide evidence that it makes efforts to prevent its peacekeeping troops deployed abroad from engaging in trafficking or exploiting trafficking victims. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism produced banners that are being posted at 15 border crossing points to discourage child sex tourism and alert border-crossers that sexual relations with children is a crime in Albania.

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