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New country of origin report on the trafficking of Albanian boys and young men


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There are growing concerns around the Home Office’s treatment of children and young people from Albania, with legal practitioners now raising the alarm about the increasing certification of Albanian asylum applications as ‘clearly unfounded’. At the same time, significant gaps in evidence are consistently acting as a barrier to successful protection claims from young people from Albania, with zero grants of asylum or humanitarian protection out of 58 initial decisions on Albanian children’s cases in 2018. This was despite Albania being the third-most prominent foreign country of origin for trafficked children identified in the UK in 2018.

Despite the anecdotal evidence we had heard from lawyers highlighting the prevalence of Albanian boys and young men being trafficked, a review of the existing country of origin information, country guidance and the Home Office Country Policy and Information Note on people trafficking from Albania, reveals almost no mention of boys and young men. Further, whilst the country guidance cases AM and BM / TD and AD are considered reasonably helpful for female victims of trafficking, there was a marked gap in authoritative findings and Home Office policy recognising male victims as a particular social group.

Based on these circumstances, the trafficking of Albanian boys and young men became the topic for our first strategic research report in a new series with the Asylum Research Centre (ARC) Foundation.

In sharing our findings Asylos and ARC hope to help fill the gap in the country of origin literature about the situation of Albanian boys and young men who are victims of trafficking and to contribute to a more transparent and informed debate about their situation and a greater recognition of their protection needs.

There remain some significant gaps in information, particularly in relation to access to and effectiveness of assistance for male victims, the situation of male victims who are returned to Albania from abroad, and barriers to reintegration and risks of re-trafficking. Asylos and ARC are calling for further research in these areas, so that the needs of this vulnerable group of young people can be better understood.

The report covers nine key research areas relating to the trafficking of Albanian boys and young men. It combines relevant and timely publicly available material with new information generated by interviewing a range of people with authoritative knowledge on the topic. Whilst it will be clear to readers that sources held a range of different and sometimes diverging opinions, we found that there was some consensus on a number of key issues.

Lawyers should refer to the full report for a comprehensive understanding but for now here are some highlights.

Albanian trafficking networks

Sources agreed that boys and young men are being targeted for exploitation in Albania by groups associated with organised crime, and several sources commented on these networks having links within the UK.

 [Boys and young men are trafficked to] any and all countries/cities/towns with an established diaspora. [For the purpose of] Drugs and THB [trafficking in human beings]. The European Union provides a lucrative market for traffickers with the richer countries being preferred or where there is an established diaspora (where there already exists an Albanian community) e.g. UK, Spain, Belgium, France, Italy. With regards types of exploitation its street crime and the most frequently reported examples are connected to the supply of Class A and B drugs. Also, as ‘farmers’ in residential cannabis farms. i.e. cannabis being grown in a residential property.

Steve Harvey, independent international law enforcement specialist, written response to questions, March 2019

Albanian criminal networks are operating throughout Europe and the UK and many are associated by law enforcement agencies with drug trafficking.

… In the UK, some members of law enforcement told us that gang members (predominantly males) are recruiting boys and young men into these gangs who are sometimes criminally exploited, such as for ‘County Lines’ or cannabis cultivation.

Anne-Marie Barry, written response to questions, March 2019

Conditions in Albania

Sources spoke about the existence of an ‘implementation gap’ between a strong legislative and policy framework and practice in reality in Albania. Corruption is one of the most significant barriers, coupled with a weak child protection system.

Well I would say that in general the implementation of legislation is a problem in Albania because […] we pretend to have a strong legislative and policy framework but in most of the cases this legislation is prepared under the pressure of international organizations and I think that the lawyers in the country have not been able to digest the legislation framework.

Professor Dr. Edlira Haxhiymeri, interview record, January 2019

I’ve even had discussions with officials and NGOs who work in Albania about this issue [the implementation gap between legislation and practice] who have acknowledged that there is a history of direct links between officials in Albanian government and police and traffickers. Some people have been prosecuted. Some individuals known to have been involved or had historic involvement, are still in positions of authority in Albania currently. So it’s my viewpoint that this makes it very difficult to have robust response to these issues.

Anonymous source 3, interview record, 2019

… the only people who get justice are those who have more money and better connections. That means that if you are a vulnerable victim, a really vulnerable trafficking victim, and you’re up against somebody who is a big organized crime boss with lots of money, you have no chance because this person can bribe whomever, and they have the connections too. You are basically excluded from justice, regardless of what is on paper, it happens really subtly.

Dr Schwandner-Sievers, Bournemouth University, interview record, February 2019

Sources also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Albanian National Referral Mechanism in identifying male victims, linked to a societal and state level denial that the practice affects boys and young men.

Our interviews showed that human trafficking in Albania is still mainly associated and identified with females in sexual exploitation. Males are unlikely to be seen by authorities as potential victims of human trafficking. There is also a strong sense of shame and stigma associated with these issues, and from my experience of speaking with NGOs and support agencies, it seems that it would be rare for a male to disclose exploitation, due to the associated shame surrounding that.

Anne-Marie Barry, written response to questions, March 2019

Definitely makes it far easier for traffickers to operate in a culture if these things are not being adequately followed up. I have been to meetings in the UK with senior Albanian government officials discussing the issue of Albanians being trafficking internally and prosecution and it’s very clear that their viewpoint on trafficking is very narrow in Albania.

… There is almost complete denial about the possibility that boys and young men are being trafficked into things like labour exploitation and forced criminality. There really is a deeply held denial that these things are happening and a belief that young men are making it up or that people are doing it willingly- a different viewpoint on young adulthood. Predominantly absolutely denial that it even exists as a phenomenon and the belief that young men are falsifying this information while migrating for economic reasons and a belief that this is always facilitated by their family. So I would say that that very clearly creates a culture- if something doesn’t exist according to those who are supposed to be identifying it then it’s going to continue with impunity.

Anonymous source 3, interview record, 2019

Treatment of victims

Sources mentioned that young trafficked men are returned to Albania without having been formally identified as such. This hinders their access to support, exacerbating the already significant barriers to reintegration and increasing the risks of re-trafficking.

Another important challenge faced during the process of identification of male victims of trafficking is that in many cases of forced labor, the trafficking victims or the potential trafficking victims are considered as irregular migrants and are deported without taking into consideration the possibility that they might have been exploited.

Different and Equal: Falling through the cracks! The trafficking of men and boys in Albania, January 2015

I have heard that there is some limited degree of reintegration that is possible, mainly I’ve heard that talked about in terms of shelters, initial support provision on arrival rather than longer-term reintegration support. Certainly none of the young men I’ve work with have been aware of them so my knowledge has not come from young people directly. Those who have been made aware of what is there have no belief in those systems to adequately protect from further exploitation, or to provide ongoing support. There is a very firmly held belief that criminal networks are wide ranging across the country and whatever that support might look like it certainly wouldn’t prevent that risk. So overall, I would say a very low level of awareness of those support provisions at all and again I don’t believe male specialist support is available.

James Simmonds-Read, Service Manager at The Children’s Society, interview record, February 2019

There is no anonymous living such as in Europe’s large cities. What chance do you have to reintegrate into a society, without your family, where everything is reliant on family? Just being given a rented flat in a city without pre-existing social contacts would make you very conspicuous and attract attention and suspicion.

… Deducing this from the situation for women as observed in 2008, and given the wider situation in Albanian society as I know it, if you are really victimized, remigration (in situations of social vulnerability typically ending up in re-trafficking) is your best option for safety, so yes, the risk of being re-trafficked would be extremely high.

Dr Schwandner-Sievers, Bournemouth University, interview record, February 2019

At a final analysis, it’s the state who is trafficking – giving no work opportunities in the country, not caring for it’s migrants abroad. I would go further and say that it’s the state who is re-trafficking, because we are more and more witnessing cases of re-trafficking due to lack of reintegration support.

Anonymous source 1, written response to questions, March 2019

Future reports

Asylos is a global network of volunteers providing free-of-charge country of origin information research to assist asylum seekers with their claims for protection. ARC Foundation is a UK charity working to improve standards in refugee status determination. Together they have received a three-year grant to publish a series of strategic research reports with the aim of addressing the most critical gaps in country of origin information in UK refugee status determination procedures.

The topic for each report will be chosen from the suggestions we receive from practitioners supporting asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in the UK, with periodical call outs being announced through legal networks and on our website. Please get in touch with us at info@asylos.eu and info@asylumresearchcentre.co.uk to learn more about the project and topic scoping.


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Maya Pritchard

Maya Pritchard has been supporting migrant young people and families in the UK since 2007, having worked in advice, support, research and administrative roles across the sector. She has been working as a Youth Caseworker for the South London Refugee Association since 2013 and as a researcher with Asylos since 2015. She now also works for Asylos as their UK Consultant and coordinates the Afghanistan and Pakistan research team. She is a Level 2 OISC accredited immigration and asylum caseworker, has a BA in politics and an LLM in Human Rights Law.