ALBANIA: Tier 2
Albania is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Albanian women and children are primarily subjected to sex trafficking within Albania; in bordering Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece; and in other European countries. Albanian and some foreign victims are subjected to forced labor in Albania, particularly in the tourism industry. Children, including those of Romani or Balkan Egyptian ethnicity, are subjected to forced begging and other forms of compelled labor in Albania and neighboring countries; girls are vulnerable to child sex trafficking. NGOs report an increase in the number of Albanian children subjected to forced labor in Kosovo and the United Kingdom. Albanian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor following arranged marriages in Albania and abroad. In past years, some foreign women from European countries were subjected to sex trafficking in Albania. Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and African migrants, particularly Syrians, transit Albania to reach Western Europe and are vulnerable to trafficking, although police have yet to identify any as trafficking victims. Corruption and high rates of turnover within the police force inhibit law enforcement action to address trafficking.
The Government of Albania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government improved law enforcement efforts by convicting more traffickers than in 2014, including some traffickers who forced children to beg; but the government and NGOs identified fewer victims, and the government prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers than in 2014. The government decreased funding to the state-run shelter for trafficking victims; and psychological, medical, and reintegration services at the state-run shelter, though improved, were still inadequate. Government funding to NGO shelters remained insufficient, although the government funded the salaries of 12 staff members at two NGO shelters. The government continued to investigate and punish victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, although the law exempts victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of their exploitation. The government had a 2014-2017 national strategy and action plan to combat trafficking, although it remained underfunded, and it increased the budget of the anti-trafficking coordinator. The national coordinator regularly convened stakeholders belonging to the national referral mechanism.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ALBANIA:
Do not punish victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, particularly sex trafficking victims exploited in prostitution; increase funding to NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims and provide funding on a regular basis; improve services provided at the state-run shelter, particularly medical, psychological, and reintegration services; fund mobile units operated by civil society groups and law enforcement to identify victims and further train police, labor inspectors, and other front-line officials on proactive identification of victims; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials; encourage victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers by facilitating participation in the witness protection program and expanding training for prosecutors dealing with victim witnesses; improve the capacity of border and migration police to screen irregular migrants for trafficking indicators; and continue efforts to screen street children for signs of trafficking.
The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Articles 110(a) and 128(b) of the criminal code prohibit sex and labor trafficking and prescribe penalties of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment; these are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Serious Crimes Prosecutor’s Office investigated 25 suspected traffickers in 2015, a decrease from 39 suspects in 2014. The state police also investigated 90 suspected traffickers during the reporting period. The government did not disaggregate law enforcement data to demonstrate efforts against both sex trafficking and forced labor. The government prosecuted 15 defendants in 2015, a decrease from 18 prosecuted in 2014. Courts convicted 11 traffickers, an increase from nine in 2014. All convicted traffickers received prison sentences ranging from six to 17 years, three of which fell below the prescribed minimum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment. Authorities continued to prosecute some traffickers for the lesser crime of “exploitation of prostitution” rather than trafficking, because the two laws overlap in some areas. Exploitation of prostitution carries a punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment under aggravated circumstances, and authorities often applied the lesser charge because it was easier to investigate and prosecute. Some officials also only recognized cases involving cross-border movement as trafficking. Border police continued to screen irregular migrants at the southern border with Greece for trafficking indicators, and in September the government developed a contingency plan to handle the influx of a large number of migrants, which stipulated the screening of all migrants for trafficking indicators. In 2015, the government trained 240 judges, prosecutors, and police officers on investigation and prosecution of traffickers and victim identification and protection. High turnover rates and corruption hampered the efficacy of police training. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. Police participated in two multi-national law enforcement operations, which resulted in the arrest of 10 Albanian suspected traffickers.
The government identified and assisted victims but continued to provide inadequate funding for victim services. The government and NGOs identified 109 victims of trafficking and potential trafficking victims in 2015, a decrease from 125 in 2014. Of these, authorities granted 38 official victim status after they agreed to undergo a formal interview with law enforcement and social services representatives, which was required to obtain this status. The government identified 80 victims; NGOs identified 27; and two victims were self-identified. NGOs reported the lack of government funding for the NGO-led mobile units responsible for most victim identification led to fewer victims being identified. Of all identified victims, 48 were minors and 87 were female. NGOs reported the following trends among the victims assisted by NGO-run shelters: 67 percent of victims were subjected to sex trafficking, nine percent were victims of labor trafficking, and 16 percent were victims of forced begging; 86 percent of victims were exploited within Albania, 12 percent abroad, and two percent both domestically and abroad. Four shelters, three of which were operated by NGOs and one that was state-run, provided assistance to trafficking victims, including food, counselling, legal assistance, medical care, educational services, employment services, assistance to victims’ children, financial support, long-term accommodation, social activities, vocational training, and post-reintegration follow-up. However, NGOs reported the government did not provide adequate financial support for the implementation of medical, psychological, and reintegration services. NGO shelters assisted 89 victims, and the state-run shelter assisted 20. The government provided 11,300,000 lek ($93,000) to the state-run shelter in 2015, a significant decrease from 19,770,000 lek ($163,000) in 2014. The government did not provide adequate funding to NGO shelters, allocating 3,000,000 lek ($24,700) strictly for food expenses. However, the government also provided funding for 12 staff member salaries at two NGO shelters and provided funding for renovation of the state-run shelter. NGO shelters continued to operate under severe financial constraints throughout 2015 and relied on outside sources for day-to-day operating costs. Of the 25 million lek ($206,000) in the government’s Special Fund for Crime Prevention, 5 million lek ($41,000) was disbursed to NGOs to support victims of crime; however, no funds went to support trafficking victim service providers. Only one NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for child trafficking victims, and it continued to operate without adequate funding. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims, including legal assistance. Male victims were accommodated in apartments paid for by NGOs. The government issued trafficking victims health cards that provide free access to health care. The government ran a program that incentivized companies to hire former trafficking victims, but observers continued to report some companies forced former victims to work without proper compensation.
Law enforcement and social worker child protection units had a direct role in identifying child victims and ensuring their protection, although they remained underfunded and understaffed. One NGO-operated mobile unit identified 13 potential trafficking victims in 2015, after receiving funding from the Czech government to continue service during the year. NGOs reported, in most cases, authorities did not formally identify victims during investigations, instead labeling cases as “exploitation of prostitution.” This prevented formal interviewing to identify victims, made victims vulnerable to prosecution for crimes committed as a result of their exploitation, and prevented them from accessing trafficking-related services. Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program, but no trafficking victims participated in the program, and NGOs reported at least one case where law enforcement discouraged a victim from accessing these services after testifying. Forty-eight victims testified against traffickers. The law provided foreign victims a three-month reflection period with temporary residency status and authorization to work for up to two years, although the government had yet to grant this status to a victim. Victims could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against traffickers, but no victims received restitution in 2015. The law exempts victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of their exploitation, but NGO-run shelters reported the government convicted three formally identified sex trafficking victims in prostitution.
The government continued efforts to prevent trafficking. The government had a 2014-2017 national strategy and action plan to combat trafficking; however, the plan’s individual stakeholder ministries were underfunded for trafficking activities, and some diverted trafficking funds to other purposes. The government increased funding for the national anti-trafficking coordinator’s office to 5.2 million lek ($43,000) in 2015 from 4.7 million lek ($39,000) in 2014. The national coordinator continued to publish regular activity reports on its website and regularly convened stakeholders belonging to the national referral mechanism. Twelve regional anti-trafficking committees comprising local officials and NGOs worked on prevention and victim assistance, but these committees’ nation-wide effectiveness was limited. The national coordinator’s office, the state police, and the general prosecutor’s office signed a memorandum of understanding to monitor the performance of the criminal justice system in handling trafficking cases. The government co-ran and advertised a free hotline and a mobile application for citizens to report suspected trafficking cases. This hotline received 492 calls during 2015, 11 of which provided information on possible trafficking cases. The national coordinator’s office ran two major anti-trafficking campaigns during 2015. The first, held from June to August, focused on child sex and labor trafficking and included awareness raising in schools and community centers, discussions with high school students, conferences and seminars with state and border police and social services, and youth awareness meetings that explicitly targeted Roma populations. For the second campaign, the national coordinator’s office designated October as Anti-Trafficking Month and organized a series of events with the financial support of NGOs. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking guidance for its diplomatic personnel, and the national coordinator briefed Albanian diplomats stationed in nine cities on human trafficking regulations.