Albania is both a country of origin and a transit country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. Women who end up being trafficked are often seduced by men with promises of marriage and then forced into prostitution. Other victims are lured by job offers such as waitressing or dancing. Albanian children, mainly from the Roma and Egyptian community are often forced to beg or carry out other forms of forced labor such as the selling goods by the roadside. Some Albanian children are sent abroad to countries like Turkey to perform seasonal work. NGOs report an increase in the number of men being trafficked for the purpose of slavery or forced labour – in 2013 there were 14 male victims identified, this rose to 17 in 2014, and 22 the following year.
Albanian victims are subjected to trafficking for sexual exploitation throughout Europe, especially in Kosovo, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Albania is also growing in importance as a route through which Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and African migrants reach Western Europe.
Given the illegal and clandestine nature of the activity, the official statistics provided by the Albanian government and NGOs are widely acknowledged to be a significant underestimation of the problem. Nevertheless, in 2001 the European Commission estimated that some 120,000 people were trafficked annually through the Balkans with Albania being an important artery in that route. Figures from the UK in 2015 estimate that of the 3,266 potential victims of trafficking identified in Britain “the largest number – 600 – came from Albania.” Further evidence about the scale of the problem can be gleaned from a 2007 Albanian police report, seen by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, which found that more than 5,000 women and girls were trafficked and exploited for sex work between 1992 and 2005. According to EU Observer “Some 22% were minors when they were trafficked, 7% of all victims were kidnapped, raped, or had their families threatened, 4% were sold into forced prostitution by their own families.” It is thought that since the period covered by the report, around 1,000 more trafficking victims have been identified.
In contrast to the scale of the problem the number of prosecutions arising from human trafficking remains very low. In 2016 Albanian police investigated 69 cases of suspected human trafficking while the Serious Crimes Prosecutor’s Office prosecuted 18 suspected traffickers. A total of 24 traffickers were convicted in Albanian courts in 2016 – 11 of these were convicted of child trafficking, and 13 for trafficking in adults.
A US State Department report has recognised an improvement in Albania’s record in bringing traffickers to justice; however, it highlighted a number of areas in which the country falls below international standards when it comes to prosecuting criminals, including the continued failure of police to “identify trafficking victims among individuals involved in forced prostitution or domestic servitude.” According to the Group of Experts On Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) what improvements there have been in Albania have come about as a result of changes to the law that increased penalties for trafficking and expressly recognised internal trafficking for the first time. Other amendments to the legal code granted foreign victims of trafficking in Albania a residence permit to remain in the country after being freed, as well as the introduction of free public healthcare for victims.
Under a national strategy to combat human trafficking put in place between 2014 and 2017 hundreds of officials including judges, police, prosecutors and civil servants have been trained on identifying and combating human trafficking. Efforts to cooperate with international law enforcement have also increased.
Campaigners argue that in order to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking from Albania cultural attitudes towards women as second-class citizens in Albania need to be addressed as does the problem of scarce employment opportunities, especially in rural areas.