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ALBANIA: Tier 2

The Government of Albania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Albania remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting more defendants and significantly increasing resources to the government-run shelter. The government transferred resources to a fund of seized criminal assets for victim support services, and the Development Center for Criminal Justice for Minors (DCCJ) produced documents to strengthen child protection and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for authorities working with child victims. The government appointed a new national coordinator to the Office of the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (ONAC). However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not convict any traffickers, identified fewer victims, and decreased resources to NGO-run shelters. The government lacked screening efforts for vulnerable populations—particularly migrants, asylum-seekers, individuals in commercial sex, and children—and mobile victim identification units (MIU) remained underfunded and staffed despite identifying most of the victims every year.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers—including complicit officials—under Articles 110(a) and 128(b) of the criminal code. • Increase efforts to screen vulnerable populations and train police, labor inspectors, and other front-line officials on proactive identification of victims. • Institutionalize and provide training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials, particularly district prosecutors, on investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, including guidance on issues of consent and coercion in the context of labor and sex trafficking. • Increase funding and create funding mechanisms that allocate adequate funding and resources on a consistent and regular basis to the NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims. • Improve the sustainability of, and law enforcement participation in, mobile trafficking victim identification units. • Expand the jurisdiction of labor inspectors to inspect businesses that are not legally registered. • Increase reintegration services, including access to mental health services for victims and education for child victims. • Implement victim-centered approaches and victim-witness protection measures during investigation, prosecution, and court proceedings.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 110(a) and 128(b) of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment for a trafficking offense involving an adult victim, and ten to 20 years’ imprisonment for an offense involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Albanian State Police (ASP) investigated 31 cases with 32 suspects (41 cases with 62 suspects in 2019); 22 cases with 27 suspects for adult trafficking and nine cases with five suspects for child trafficking. The ASP also investigated four suspects for “knowingly soliciting or patronizing a sex trafficking victim to perform a commercial sex act” (two in 2019). The General Prosecution Office (GPO) investigated 43 cases with 16 defendants (25 cases with eight defendants in 2019); 30 cases with four defendants for adult trafficking and 13 cases with 12 defendants for child trafficking. GPO prosecuted two cases with 12 defendants (three cases with three defendants in 2019); one defendant for adult trafficking and eleven defendants for child trafficking. Courts did not convict any traffickers (five in 2019). The appeals court reviewed and confirmed decisions on three traffickers (three in 2019). The government suspended courts from March to April 2020 due to pandemic mitigation efforts and suspended activities when judicial staff tested positive for COVID-19.

ASP maintained an Anti-Trafficking Unit, which investigated trafficking in persons in addition to drug and contraband trafficking. The government continued judicial reforms that changed prosecutorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases; the Special Structure against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) and the Special Court of Appeals on Corruption and Organized Crime have jurisdiction over trafficking cases related to organized crime, while district courts prosecuted trafficking cases without an organized crime nexus. However, GRETA, prosecutors, and other observers reported that district prosecutors did not have the specialized experience and capacity to prosecute trafficking cases successfully. GRETA and observers reported that authorities confused overlapping elements of exploitation of prostitution and trafficking and at times applied the lesser charge, because it required less specialization and time or due to the false belief that trafficking crimes required a transnational element. Limited resources and constant turnover within law enforcement created additional obstacles to maintaining capacity to investigate trafficking. The government, at times in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations, trained police officers, judges, prosecutors, and victim coordinators on various anti-trafficking issues. The government suspended five police officials, including the Director of the Border and Emigration Directorate of Tirana and three chiefs of units, after media reported a story that alleged their complicity in an organized trafficking operation. The government conducted an investigation into the officers involved but did not report prosecuting or convicting these officials or any other government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. GPO executed three international arrest warrants, sent ten rogatory letters, and received five rogatory letters from foreign authorities. GPO continued a joint investigation with Italian authorities and received one request to extradite a suspected trafficker and asked a foreign government to extradite a suspected trafficker to Albania.

PROTECTION

The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 81 potential victims and five officially recognized victims (96 potential victims and seven officially recognized victims in 2019). Of these, 48 were sex trafficking victims, 27 forced labor, and six forced criminality; 62 were female and 24 were males; 58 were children; three were foreign victims from The Gambia, Philippines, and Serbia. The government maintained a multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) and updated SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. First responders referred potential victims to law enforcement and state social services, who conducted joint interviews to determine officially recognized victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential and officially recognized victims. MIUs in eight regions, consisting of social workers from NGOs and police officers, identified most of the victims every year, but the units’ sustainability was uncertain due to the lack of permanent staff, formalization, and resources; MIUs identified 45 potential victims (42 potential victims in 2019). Experts reported that police did not participate consistently in the MIUs despite signing a memorandum of understanding that formalized their participation. Experts also stated that law enforcement rarely initiated cases when civil society identified a potential victim, but ASP noted that definitional differences with civil society on what constituted trafficking caused obstacles in identification. Observers continued to report that border police lacked resources, interpreters, and knowledge to screen consistently or implement SOPs for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers. As in previous years, ASP did not screen individuals in commercial sex for indicators of trafficking during raids and investigations of commercial sex establishments, and the Labor Inspectorate lacked the training to identify victims of forced labor. Observers also reported that the absence of a standardized database created confusion among relevant government agencies on who was responsible for providing support.

The government operated one specialized shelter and supported three specialized NGO-run shelters. The government allocated 17.6 million leks ($175,390), compared with 21.5 million leks ($214,250) in 2019 to NGO-run shelters to support 29 staff salaries. The government provided an additional 6.8 million leks ($67,760) for food support to NGO-run shelters in 2019 and 2020. The government allocated 29.3 million leks ($291,980) to the government-run shelter, a significant increase compared with 20.9 million leks ($208,270) in 2019. The government also transferred 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets for victim support services (none in 2019). NGO-run shelters continued to operate under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. Additionally, funding delays hindered shelter operations, and the government decentralized funding mechanisms for all social programs to municipal governments in 2019. Municipality grants prioritized NGOs that provided local assistance rather than the national scope needed for trafficking shelters, and experts alleged solicitation and bidding procedures at the municipal level were rife with corruption. The four shelters constituted the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters (NCATS); victims who required services not available in one shelter were referred to another shelter within the coalition. NCATS and the government provided assistance to all 86 officially recognized and potential victims (115 in 2019), including food, mental health counseling, legal assistance, health care, educational services, employment services, assistance to victims’ children, financial support, long-term accommodation, social activities, vocational training, and post-reintegration follow-up. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection issued an order to improve information sharing among institutions during the pandemic and offered residential services for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. The government provided vocational training for 20 officially recognized and potential victims; however, experts reported a lack of resources for long-term care and reintegration efforts, particularly for child victims and victims with children. NGO-run shelters allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily; the state-run shelter required victims to receive permission from the shelter director for their security. One NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for victims under the age of 18 and rented apartments for male victims, where they received assistance from NGOs. Observers reported the shelters in the NCATS had professional staff and good quality of care; however, experts reported victim assistance measures for victims with mental health issues were not sufficient. National Employment Services offices prioritized jobseekers from vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; 60 potential and officially recognized victims registered with the employment office for employment opportunities.

Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims; the law provided foreign victims a three-month “reflection period” with temporary residency status and authorization to work for up to two years. While the government granted or renewed residency to two foreign victims (one in 2019), NGOs reported facing difficulties in obtaining temporary residence permits for their beneficiaries. Unlike previous years, there were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, the government may have detained or deported some women in commercial sex, irregular migrants, and asylum seekers. The government did not report the number of victims that cooperated in investigations and prosecutions (14 in 2019). SPAK possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences, which was used in one case (the same number as in 2019). Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; one victim continued to participate in the program. The government maintained the DCCJ with four part-time prosecutors and a judicial police officer responsible for child protection in criminal proceedings. DCCJ, in cooperation with a foreign government, produced documents on rights of children in conflict with the law, rights of child victims, and SOPs for officers and prosecutors dealing with cases involving children. The government maintained 22 victim assistance coordinators, who provided legal assistance and guided victims in accessing services. Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases and no victims pursued compensation through civil suits. Authorities assisted in the voluntary repatriation of two Albanian victims and also repatriated one foreign victim to The Gambia and one to Serbia.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued implementation of the 2018-2020 national action plan (NAP) and allocated 488.9 million leks ($4.87 million) for its implementation. The State Committee against Trafficking in Persons, composed of relevant ministry representatives, monitored and implemented various anti-trafficking efforts. The government also maintained the National Anti-trafficking Task Force, composed of ministry officials, civil society representatives, and other participants that monitored the NRM. The government allocated 8.2 million leks ($81,710) to ONAC, compared with 9.5 million leks ($94,670) in 2019. The national coordinator led ONAC and overall anti-trafficking efforts; the government dismissed the national coordinator in July 2020 but appointed a deputy interior minister as the new coordinator. ONAC produced a report assessing the implementation of the NAP and published periodic newsletters on anti-trafficking activities. Twelve regional anti-trafficking committees comprising local officials and NGOs worked on local victim assistance and referrals mechanisms. NCATS and ONAC signed a memorandum of understanding, which set up the Advisory Board of Victims of Trafficking consisting of three survivors; the board met once in 2020, though the pandemic made meetings and activities difficult. ONAC, in cooperation with civil society, conducted awareness campaigns for students, government officials, and the general public. The government also conducted informational meetings with representatives from the Romani and Balkan Egyptian communities. The government did not make efforts to regulate or punish labor recruiters for illegal practices that increased migrant vulnerability to exploitation abroad. Labor inspectors did not have authority to inspect informal work activities, including unregistered businesses. The Assembly enacted amendments to the law on public procurement to disqualify companies—including administrative personnel, leadership, or supervisory bodies—convicted of trafficking or exploitation of children from competition for public contracts. The government reported the State Police Directorate’s hotline did not function in 2020. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Albania, and traffickers exploit victims from Albania abroad. Traffickers exploit Albanian women and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, especially during tourist season. Traffickers use false promises such as marriage or employment offers to exploit victims in sex trafficking. Traffickers commonly force children to beg or perform other types of compelled labor, such as selling small items. Traffickers exploit Albanian children, mainly from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, for seasonal work and forced begging. Isolated reports stated that traffickers exploit children through forced labor in cannabis fields in Albania, and some traffickers are likely involved in drug trafficking. Traffickers exploit Albanian victims in sex trafficking in countries across Europe, particularly Kosovo, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, North Macedonia, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (UK). Albanian migrants who seek employment in Western Europe are vulnerable to exploitation in forced labor and forced criminality, particularly in the UK. Foreign victims from European countries, The Gambia, and Philippines are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor in Albania. Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and African migrants transit Albania to reach Western Europe and are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly unaccompanied children.

U.S. Department of State

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