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Albania: U.S. State Department Recognizes Antitrafficking Effort

The United States says Albania is making progress in its effort to eliminate the buying and selling of human beings. The U.S. State Department, in its latest report on human trafficking around the world, has promoted Albania to a "Tier 2" country from a previous "Tier 3" country. This signifies Albania has demonstrated a willingness to end trafficking, even if it still has a long way to go.

Tirana, 7 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Department of State says Albania is taking the first essential steps to addressing the problem of human trafficking.

In its second annual report on human trafficking, released this week, the State Department promoted Albania to a "Tier 2" country, meaning the country has made significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with international standards. Albania had previously been classified in the lowest, "Tier 3," category.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Albania Elisabeth Shelton says the decision constitutes moral support for the Albanian government: "Let me be very clear that the Tier 2 country is one which does not yet meet minimum standards but where significant efforts have been undertaken to solve the problems of trafficking."

Albanian authorities praised the reclassification, saying if the Tier 3 ranking had remained in place for another year, Albania risked sanctions by the U.S. Albanian Foreign Minister Arta Dade applauded the promotion: "This step constitutes a real contribution towards improving the image of Albania, as the country is quickly approaching long-lasting stability, stable economic and social development, and an integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. This achievement is a result of the efforts the government and other state and civil structures have undertaken to activate the legal and institutional mechanisms regarding the general struggle against organized crime and a restrictive border control."

The State Department said many factors contributed to Albania's progress. It cited the combined efforts of the government, local private organizations, the international community, and media groups.

Last year the Albanian parliament enacted a "National Strategy Against Trafficking in Human Beings." This led to the creation of antitrafficking units in police districts around the country. An internationally supported Antitrafficking Center was established in Vlora, although it is still not operational.

The U.S. report says, nevertheless, trafficking in Albania remains a critical problem. The country is considered both a source of trafficked women and children as well as a transit point.

Albanian police say about 10 speedboats carrying trafficked persons depart from Vlora bay and other coastal points each night. The number of trafficked people during the summer is believed to be between 2,500-3,000 a month. Many are Kurds and enter Albania from Greece.

Avni Jancellari chairs the Directorate for Combating Human Trafficking in the Albanian Ministry of Public Order. He says the trafficking networks are present all around the country in spite of increased pressure by police. "[During the first four months of the year] the state police identified and prevented 187 cases of trafficking attempts, detaining 283 persons. [This is more than the] 266 cases we forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office last year. During these first four months, we attacked and fully destroyed 12 illegal groups dealing with criminal traffic in the cities of Durres, Vlora, Korca, Tirana, Berat, Kukes, etc."

According to the U.S., over the past year at least 700,000 men, women, and children worldwide were bought, sold, or otherwise held against their will in slave-like conditions.