The government increased victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 110 potential victims and two official victims, a decrease compared with 154 potential victims and five official victims in 2021. Of these, 61 were potential sex trafficking victims; 35 potential labor trafficking victims, including 26 forced begging victims; and 14 potential victims of forced criminality. Thirty-two of the victims were women, four men, 48 girls, and 26 boys; there were two foreign victims from Syria and one victim from Kosovo. The government maintained a multidisciplinary NRM with SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services, though observers reported it only met once in 2022 resulting in limited coordination. Law enforcement and state social services conducted joint interviews for potential victims who voluntarily requested official victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential and officially recognized victims. MIUs in nine 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 and resources; MIUs identified 75 potential victims (126 in 2021). Experts reported police did not participate consistently in the MIUs despite signing an MOU that formalized their participation and law enforcement rarely initiated investigations when civil society identified a potential victim. Observers continued to report border police lacked resources, interpreters, and knowledge to screen consistently or implement SOPs for migrants and asylum-seekers. However, the government adopted new screening procedures to identify trafficking victims in irregular migration flows. 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 forced labor victims. Law enforcement justified cases of potential domestic servitude and forced labor in forced marriages involving Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities as traditional cultural practices and customs. Due to inconsistent screening procedures and as it had reported in previous years, the government may have detained or deported some potential victims, including women in commercial sex, migrants, and asylum-seekers.
The government operated one specialized shelter and supported three specialized NGO-run shelters. The government allocated 22.7 million leks ($213,150) to NGO-run shelters to support staff salaries, compared with 22 million leks ($206,570) in 2021. The government provided an additional 7.2 million leks ($67,610) for food support to NGO-run shelters, compared with 6.8 million leks ($63,850) in 2021. The government allocated 20.1 million leks ($188,730) to the government-run shelter, compared with 20.9 million leks ($196,240) in 2021. The government also transferred 22.08 million leks ($207,320) from a fund of seized criminal assets to NGOs and the government-run shelter for victim support services, a significant increase compared with 10.2 million leks ($95,780) in 2021. Although the government increased resources to NGO-run shelters in 2022 and 2021, NGO-run shelters continued to operate under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. The government denied the shelters’ request for increased funding to enable standard overtime or weekend/holiday pay or to increase staff salaries above minimum wage to assist with retaining and attracting staff. NGO-run shelters reported no funding delays from the government, as in previous years. However, experts reported the bidding process for social programs with municipal governments was not transparent and that no funds were dispersed to shelters due to municipal governments not considering support services for trafficking victims a priority.
The four specialized 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 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; NCATS and the government supported all official and potential victims in both 2022 and 2021. NCATS maintained the total capacity to accommodate 71 potential and official victims, including 10 children. One NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for victims younger than the age of 18 and rented apartments for male victims, where they received assistance from NGOs. 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. Observers reported the shelters in the NCATS had professional staff and quality care despite funding limitations and the government reported good cooperation between NCATS and government institutions. The government also provided general support through two centers for victims of violence, including trafficking victims, and established four general support centers that offered psycho-social support, legal assistance, and family assistance. However, experts reported a lack of resources for long-term care, employment, and other reintegration efforts, particularly for child victims and victims with children. The government and NGOs provided vocational training for 50 victims and National Employment Services offices prioritized jobseekers from vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; 73 victims registered with the employment office for employment opportunities, 46 of which obtained work. The government also supported 25 victims that participated in an internship program to start small businesses and enrolled 10 victims into an economic assistance program that dispersed 9,000 leks ($85) per month. 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. The government provided no residency statuses and repatriated no victims.
The government reported five victims cooperated in investigations and prosecutions and 80 victims received legal assistance. District courts lacked equipment to allow remote testimony, but SPAK possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences, though it did not record how often it was used. Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; no victims participated in the program in 2022 or 2021. The government reported interviews and testimonies took place in the presence of a psychologist and prosecutors separated victims and defendants during trials to prevent re-traumatization. The government maintained the Development Center for Criminal Justice for Minors with four part-time prosecutors, a judicial police officer responsible for child protection in criminal proceedings, and five child friendly interview rooms. Twenty-two victim assistance coordinators provided legal assistance and guided victims in accessing services; the government appointed victim assistance coordinators to all victims assisting in prosecutions. The government signed cooperation agreements with higher education institutions to add to a list of professionals that provided pro bono legal assistance to victims; however, observers reported lawyers did not always have knowledge on victims’ rights, courts did not consistently use victim-centered techniques, and the government often did not provide victims with necessary legal documents. Victims could obtain restitution through criminal proceedings or compensation through civil suits. However, judges generally rejected restitution in criminal proceedings and civil suits required victims to submit new testimonies, causing re-traumatization. Additionally, civil courts dismissed or closed civil suits if criminal courts dropped the case or acquitted the defendant. Courts granted compensation to only two victims in cases from 2010 and 2018 but did not disburse compensation to the victims – the case from 2018 remained under appeal.
from 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – U.S. Department of State
2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State