Albania’s Dark Secret: Human Trafficking

Albanian human trafficking has been of the utmost concern over the last few decades. It dates back to the fall of communism in the early 1990s. Known as a hotspot for the trading of human beings, it has developed a sickening reputation for the cruelty and harmful treatment of women and minors. The Salvation Army reports that human trafficking in Albania has grown “exponentially” over the last few years, an industry capable of tearing apart the lives of victims.

The insufficient economy in Albania’s rural and city sections is largely contributing to an industry that sees no moral or ethical limits. According to a United Nations report, young, poor females are the most vulnerable to human trafficking. False prospects of marriage and work entice these young women to join the men. In actuality, these men are en route to an underground trafficking industry or even a brothel. Rape and abuse are prevalent in the lives of the majority of victims.

A young Albanian girl, Seya, tells the BBC of her time as a human traffic victim. She was forced to sleep with many men, some of them “international clients” who paid more at night. Seya expresses a deep discontent, stating that the perpetrators stole her freedom and dignity. She says, “…they use you, rule you…it’s very degrading.” Another victim, Anna, details similar circumstances. But Anna was trafficked in Britain. Governments and multinational institutions should proactively respond to such atrocities which take place all over Europe.

The problem seems to be deep rooted in Albanian male thought, where it’s common for men to have extremely derogatory attitudes towards women. These attitudes are almost a cultural norm. In a BBC interview, a reporter was able to have a conversation with former trafficker Fatos Kapplani. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence for trafficking children into Greece. When asked what his motivations were he replied, “…everyone was doing that kind of thing.” Despite the industry that engulfed his life, he was evidently shameful of his prior actions, conceding that he would not want his own children subjected to trafficking.

When women and children are in dire need of refuge, a place of comfort and escape, it seems only natural to turn to aspects of life which offer security. As vulnerable individuals, women and children are considered to be easy targets. Such inequalities in Eastern Europe do not receive as much media traction as they should. However, national changes are taking place in Albania as a result of influential institutions such as the European Union and United Nations.

The National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters (NCATS) reported that 85 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2015. However, the numbers are thought to be  much higher. A project implemented by UN women with EU funding titled “Preventing and addressing violence against women and girls in Albania” seeks to address this issue. The campaign is dedicated to getting women off the streets and out of illegal underground communities in order to offer them a life free from violence and terror. The project also helps to promote women’s rights around the country and continent.

The EU and UN have been jointly responsible for showcasing anti-human trafficking ads throughout October 2015. These ads are a desperate attempt to bring awareness to the horrendous situation many Albanians experience everyday.

Economic reintegration has also been another mechanism to provide assistance to impoverished women and children. Matilda Nonaj is responsible for coordinating Albania’s anti-trafficking efforts. She works for the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth. In a UN Women article, Nonaj states that, “Providing soft loans to women to set up small businesses is a great idea that can be applied.”

The protection of women and girls should always be a priority for governments, irrespective of the political and economic climate of the country. It is imperative for the United Nations to continue advocating for human rights throughout the world. This should occur even in states which are more accustomed to undervaluing humans because of their gender, race, religion or national situation.