The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 95 official and potential victims (105 in 2017). Of these, 28 were adults and 67 were minors (49 adults and 56 children in 2017), 60 were female and 35 male (80 female and 25 male in 2017), and one was foreign (nine foreign victims in 2017). Authorities identified 93 as potential victims and two as official victims (79 potential victims and 26 official victims in 2017). The government could not provide details about the type of exploitation for all official and potential victims but at least 36 were subjected to sex trafficking, 25 to forced labor, and 27 to forced begging. The government maintained a multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) and updated SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. First responders referred potential victims to law enforcement and state social services who conducted joint interviews to determine official victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential and officially recognized victims. NGOs identified the majority of victims; the government identified only 33 of the 95 official and potential victims (60 in 2017), including only five identified by law enforcement (11 in 2017). NGOs, with the support of the government, maintained mobile victim identification units consisting of social workers and police in three regions, but the units’ sustainability was uncertain due to the lack of permanent staff, formalization, and resources. Mobile victim identification units identified 51 potential victims (26 in 2017). Experts reported police did not participate consistently in the mobile victim identification units despite signing a memorandum of understanding that formalized their participation. Law enforcement rarely initiated cases when civil society identified a potential victim, but ASP noted definitional differences with civil society on what constituted trafficking caused obstacles in identification. BMP updated internal SOPs on identification and developed daily reporting requirements on trafficking victims; however, BMP could not consistently screen migrants due to increased migrant flows and a lack of BMP officers and interpreters. Observers continued to report police did not consistently screen individuals for potential involvement in prostitution during raids and investigations on commercial sex establishments 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 crossing borders for begging.
The government operated one specialized shelter and supported three specialized NGO-run shelters. The government allocated 21.6 million leks ($201,770) to NGO-run shelters to support 29 staff salaries, compared to 20.2 million leks ($188,700) to support 29 staff salaries in 2017. The government provided an additional 5.2 million leks ($48,580) for food support to NGO-run shelters, compared to 5.5 million leks ($51,380) in 2017. The government allocated 22.5 million leks ($210,180) to the government-run shelter, compared to 22.2 million leks ($207,380) in 2017. The government did not transfer resources to a fund of seized criminal assets for support services, compared to 4.7 million leks ($43,900) in 2017. Funding for NGO-run shelters steadily increased over the past four years; however, continued funding delays hindered shelter operations and the government decentralized funding mechanisms for all social programs to municipal governments starting in 2019. Municipality grants prioritized NGOs providing local assistance rather than the national scope needed for trafficking shelters, and experts alleged solicitation and bidding procedures at the municipal level were rife with nepotism and corruption. NGO-run shelters operated under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. The four shelters constituted 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. NCATS and the government provided assistance to 78 official and potential victims (101 in 2017), including food, mental health 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. Local Employment Offices collaborated with private businesses and NGOs to provide access to training and employment for trafficking victims. The government provided free health care but access to education for child victims was inadequate. For example, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection did not approve funds for the government-run shelter to hire a part-time teacher for victims unable to attend school. Similarly, the government provided free textbooks to children in “social economic difficulties,” which did not explicitly include trafficking victims, and some regional directorates of the Ministry of Education used that omission to exclude child victims from receiving free textbooks. NGO-run shelters allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily; the state-run shelter required victims to notify the shelter director of their whereabouts in order to assist in their protection. 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. Observers reported professional staff and good quality of care at the shelters in the NCATS. Experts reported first responders referred some individuals who were not trafficking victims to the government-run shelter, including individuals with mental health issues, migrants, and victims of other crimes. 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 or renewed residency to seven foreign victims (six in 2017).
Unlike some previous years, the government did not knowingly penalize victims, but may have penalized some trafficking victims due to inadequate identification efforts. Five victims cooperated with law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions (23 in 2017); however, the government did not consistently apply a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions. Law enforcement did not consistently offer sufficient security and support, and victims and their families received threats during court proceedings. SCPO possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences, which was used in one case. Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; none participated in the program (one in 2017). Local police improved implementation of child-specific procedures, including consistently involving social workers and psychologists when taking official statements from children. The government issued implementing legislation on providing free legal aid and funded victim coordinators in every prosecution office starting in 2019; prosecution offices hired five victim coordinators. Victims could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against traffickers; no victims have received restitution. The law provided repatriation assistance to Albanian citizen victims identified abroad; authorities assisted in the voluntary repatriation of three Albanian victims from Germany, Portugal, and the UK (four in 2017). The government also repatriated foreign victims, including one from Kosovo and one from North Macedonia.