“A year has passed and you’ve stopped caring about a lot of things. The world means nothing any more, emotions mean nothing when this type of thing happens. Believe me, it becomes all you think about, you become angry and you lose sleep and you cry. You become irritable. A year and a half passes, and you’re walking on eggshells inside your own head. Over a year and a half later, you find out they’re dead, and then it hits you: Where were they? What did they think about, and see, and go through in almost two whole years? It could only have been hell, and please trust me when I tell you that I would rather have had this happen to myself than for it to have happened to her. It changes you, your view of the world. You even feel it when you speak the language you both used to talk to one another. It’s dark, and it’s awful, and I never want it again.”
One Percent of Population Enslaved
These are the words of an Albanian native and close friend of mine. The person he speaks of fell victim to the epidemic of human trafficking in Albania. Young women and children
face the greatest risk of abduction in Albania, and are used for organ harvesting, forced labor or prostitution. In most cases, as in this case, the victims are killed.
An estimated one percent of Albania’s population is currently enslaved outside of the country due to human trafficking. This includes 30,000 Albanian prostitutes in Europe – most of whom were trafficked as children. Human trafficking is well-known to everyone in Albania and affects their daily lives. School is held behind closed bars with a gate keeper present at all times. In many villages, teenage girls aren’t granted the opportunity to finish school and are kept at home by their parents. Abductions can have severe psychological effects on the community and it seems everyone in the country has experienced a loss, or knows someone who has lost a child to trafficking.
So what brought this epidemic upon Albania? One citizen says the country does not need to repair a society that is broken, but to build the sort of society it has never been.
After World War II, Albania was under a communist dictatorship. For 46 years Enver Hoxha kept the country almost completely cut off from the outside world out of fear of insurgent forces. Hoxha’s rein came to an end in 1991 and left the country in ruins. My aforementioned friend, whom I will call Tyler, spoke about the state of his country: “After our 40-year dictatorship, our legal system was broken, our society was broken. We, as a people, were lost and alone and nobody cared about us. It sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. Ask any Albanian out there. We were forgotten, and under those circumstances, organized crime from our own people and our own villages arose to fill in the gaps that were left in us. And in doing so, they began taking our women away and murdering their families.”
After the fall of the dictatorship, government and legislation remained corrupt. For this reason, the people of Albania have been forced to take law into their own hands, resulting in continuous blood feuds and the rise of the Albanian mafia. Violence is a part of day-to-day reality for Albania. These circumstances, in addition to the economic pressures Albania faces, makes illegal means of generating money more probable.
One of the Poorest Countries in Europe
The first attempt at capitalism after the fall of the dictatorship resulted in a terrible pyramid scheme which devastated the country financially and brought human trafficking to it’s peak in 1997. The economy has stabilized since ’97 however Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. Most money for families in Albania comes from relatives working outside the country. Jobs and hopeful futures within the country are scarce, creating demand to source money elsewhere.
Trafficking women is considered the easiest form of trafficking because there is no up front cost (for example, to buy illegal products for resale) and judges, politicians and police can easily be paid off. In an interview with ABC news, Ilir Gjoni, the Albanian Minister of Public Order says police “are part of the criminal society” selling girls who fall into their hands. Tyler comments, “So many police officers get arrested yearly for human trafficking, but get light sentences because they’re friends with the local judges. Only in extreme cases, like the arrest of 13 members of the Durres Syndicate, do the traffickers go to a higher court in Tirana.”
Horrific Reality for Victims
In Tirana there hasn’t been a population census since the fall of the Soviet Union. Incomplete birth records there make disappearing without a trace a horrific reality for many families. Sex trafficking victims are usually subject to severe psychological and physical violence by their captors. In many cases traffickers develop a relationship with girls, promising them marriage and a better future before capturing them. The girls who manage to escape enter a new state of terror as they are usually in a foreign country at this point and in a position to be arrested as prostitutes with no documents. Those who make it back to Albania often face jail time or are confined to maximum security shelters to protect victims from being recaptured. Tyler says going home isn’t an option for many children after they have been abducted because “Some families, who still follow specific ancient Albanian traditions, won’t accept their children back when they come home, having survived the ordeal, even a year or two later. It’s an embarrassment to the family, a ‘what would the neighbors say if they knew our daughter worked as a whore’ situation. And then the girls and boys, with nowhere left to go, give up living or run away, and sometimes get taken again.”
The issue of human trafficking is one of great trauma for victims and their loved ones, with effects reaching to the daily lives of everyone in the surrounding community. Contributing factors to the rate of human trafficking such as poverty and corruption in the legal system are complex and intertwined, but need to be addressed to reduce the occurrence of human trafficking. Φ
Allison Inscore writes about her friend’s first hand experience with human trafficking in Albania after she accompanied him through shock, anxious waiting and the eventual loss of his loved one.