The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 105 potential trafficking victims (95 in 2016). Of these, 49 were adults and 56 were children (51 adults and 44 children in 2016), 80 were female and 25 were male (84 females and 11 males in 2016), and nine were foreigners (eight in 2016). Seventy-nine were identified as potential victims and 26 officially identified as victims (62 potential victims and 33 officially identified victims in 2016). A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided standard operating procedures (SOPs) for identifying and referring victims to services. The government, with the support of NGOs, reactivated mobile identification units in three regions, but the unit’s sustainability was uncertain due to a lack of permanent staff, formalization, and resources; mobile identification units identified 26 potential victims. Additionally, the government referred 60 potential victims, civil society referred 16, and three self-identified. Observers reported police did not consistently identify trafficking victims among individuals in prostitution and the labor inspectorate lacked the training to identify victims of forced labor. Similarly, identification efforts for forced begging remained inadequate, particularly among unaccompanied children, street children, and children moving across the borders for begging. First responders referred potential trafficking victims to law enforcement and state social services who conducted a joint interview and provided official victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential victims and officially recognized victims.
The government operated one specialized shelter and supported three specialized NGO-run shelters. The government provided 20.2 million lek ($182,640) to NGO-run shelters to support 29 staff salaries, compared to 15.3 million lek ($138,340) to support 24 staff salaries in 2016. The government used 4.7 million lek ($42,500) in 2016 and 2017 from the special fund of seized criminal assets to support services. The government provided 5.5 million lek ($49,730) for food support to NGO-run shelters, compared to 1.8 million lek ($16,280) in 2016. However, the government reorganized the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth and State Social Services into the new Ministry of Health and Social Care, which contributed to delays in funding, including funding for staff salaries and food support. NGO-run shelters operated under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs; government financial mechanisms intended to partially fund these shelters remained complicated. The four shelters comprised the National Coalition of Anti-trafficking Shelters (NCATS) and victims who required services not available in one shelter were referred to another shelter within the coalition. The NCATS provided assistance to trafficking victims, including food, counseling, legal assistance, medical care, educational services, employment services, assistance to victims’ children, financial support, long-term accommodation, social activities, vocational training, and post-reintegration follow-up. The government provided free vocational training, textbooks for child victims, and health cards that provided free access to health care; however, the government offered limited reintegration support and did not provide funding for reintegration services. Experts reported first responders often referred individuals that were not trafficking victims to the government-run shelter, including individuals with mental health issues or victims of other crimes. NGO-run shelters supported 71 trafficking victims and potential victims (75 in 2016) and the state-run shelter supported 30 (30 in 2016). NGO-run shelters allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily, but the state-run shelter required victims to seek approval from the director of the shelter. One NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for child victims under the age of 18 and male victims were provided with rented apartments, where they received assistance from NGOs. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims and 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 granted residency to six foreign victims in 2017 (none in 2016). Observers reported professional staff and good quality of care at the shelters in the NCATS but reported low staff levels at the government-run shelter after staff were transferred to the domestic violence center and the facility required renovations.
The government penalized one victim for an unlawful act committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; as in similar cases in past years, authorities convicted an officially identified trafficking victim for prostitution and sentenced her to eight months of probation. The government may have deported, detained, or restricted freedom of movement of some trafficking victims due to inadequate identification efforts. SCPO possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences and victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; one trafficking victim participated in the program. The government adopted several laws strengthening child protection within the criminal justice system, such as the participation of a psychologist in criminal proceedings involving children. Twenty-three trafficking victims cooperated with law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions; however, the government did not consistently apply victim-centered investigations and prosecutions. Law enforcement did not consistently offer sufficient security and support, victims and their families received threats during court proceedings, and some victims appeared in front of their traffickers in court proceedings, causing re-traumatization. Victims could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against traffickers; no victim had ever received restitution. The law provided repatriation assistance to Albanians citizens identified abroad; four potential victims were repatriated from Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, and Norway (none in 2017).