The US Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim has called on the Albanian government to renew its efforts to identify victims of human trafficking, help them re-enter society, and send traffickers to prison.
Speaking at the OSCE Conference on Joint Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings in Albania, Kim said:
“With civil society, including the NGOs that run three of Albania’s shelters for trafficking victims, the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and justice institutions can revive efforts complicated by COVID-19 to identify more victims, prosecute and convict traffickers, and prepare those who were trafficked to reenter society.”
“We urge the Government of Albania to renew its efforts,” Kim stated.
She added that her government has made it clear that corruption, human rights abuses, and other crimes constitute threats to US national security. As a result, they have directed all US government agencies to defend the US and its allies against such crimes and human rights abuses.
Kim continued that those found guilty of trafficking in humans risk being banned from entering the US, regardless of whether they have a permanent or tourist visa. She also said the US government can take action against property if it has a connection with the US.
On the topic of justice, she said that “thanks to justice reform, you know that you have the institutions and the professionals to put traffickers behind bars.”
This is even though in 2018 and 2019, several years into the justice reform, only five traffickers had been sentenced. This is in fact the lowest figure since 2014. These figures came from a US State Department report, which also noted that the Albanian government doesn’t fully meet the minimum standards to effectively eliminate human trafficking.
A report by the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) found that prosecutions and convictions were very rare, as were seizure of assets resulting from trafficking. It noted that prosecutors and judicial staff were not adequately trained and that the situation was being made worse by the justice reform as it was further depleting stocks of competent judicial staff.
Albania remains a source, destination, and transit country for victims of human trafficking. In 2017, Albania topped a UK list as the number 1 source for victims of modern slavery. Then in 2019, Reuters discovered that the UK was sending home dozens of slaves to trafficking hotspots such as Albania, putting them at risk of re-trafficking.
In June of this year, the British Home Office published a report on the trafficking of Albanian women for sexual exploitation. It found that while official figures of those trafficked may have decreased, this does not mean that this is the reality. They noted it referred only to identified cases and that cases were not always recorded adequately.
GRETA also noted that there are significant risks in returning trafficking victims to Albania. These include inadequate mental health support, low funding for shelters, social exclusion and the risk of being trafficked again.
Petya Nestorova, the Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) told Exit:
“It’s important to consider all of the risks before sending them back to Albania, risks like you mentioned [stigma, re-trafficking, family rejection, social exclusion, poverty, intimidation/harassment] are very real risks. In France, women have been granted asylum after being trafficked because returning to Albania is seen as carrying risks… this should be used more.”
She added that there is also a need for source countries such as Albania to communicate more with destination countries.
“They need to talk to each other more because returning women to places where they will be ostracised is not a way to combat human trafficking. They have a responsibility to talk about this,” she added.
Around 50% of trafficked women and girls that return to Albania are rejected by their family. At least 2% are at risk of being trafficked.