The government increased victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 96 potential victims and seven officially recognized victims (93 potential victims and two officially recognized victims in 2018). Of these, 36 were adults and 67 were minors (28 adults and 67 minors in 2018); 80 were female and 23 were male (60 females and 35 males in 2018); six were foreign victims (one in 2018); and 65 were victims of sex trafficking, 37 of forced labor, and one of forced marriage for the purpose of domestic servitude. In 2018, the government did not provide details about the type of exploitation for all officially recognized and potential victims, but at least 36 were subjected to sex trafficking, 25 to forced labor, 27 to forced begging, and three to forced marriage for the purpose of domestic servitude in 2018. The government maintained a multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) and updated standard operating procedures (SOPs) for identifying and referring victims to services. First responders referred potential victims to law enforcement and state social services, which conducted joint interviews to determine officially recognized victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential and officially recognized victims. NGOs identified the majority of victims; the government identified 43 of the 103 officially recognized and potential victims (33 in 2018), including 42 identified by officials participating in mobile identification units. 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 42 potential victims (51 potential victims in 2018). Experts reported police did not participate consistently in the mobile victim identification units despite signing a memorandum of understanding that formalized their participation. Experts also stated that law enforcement rarely initiated cases when civil society identified a potential victim, but ASP noted that definitional differences with civil society on what constituted trafficking caused obstacles in identification. Observers continued to report that authorities did not consistently screen or implement SOPs for migrants and asylum-seekers and that police did not screen individuals in commercial sex for indicators of trafficking during raids and investigations of commercial sex establishments. The Labor Inspectorate lacked the training to identify victims of forced labor, and identification of 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 21.5 million leks ($184,630) to NGO-run shelters to support 29 staff salaries, compared with 21.6 million leks ($185,490) to support 29 staff salaries in 2018. The government provided an additional 6.8 million leks ($58,390) for food support to NGO-run shelters, compared with 5.2 million leks ($44,650) in 2018. The government allocated 20.9 million leks ($179,480) to the government-run shelter, compared with 22.5 million leks ($193,220) in 2018. The government did not transfer resources to a fund of seized criminal assets for victim support services in 2018 or 2019. Funding for NGO-run shelters steadily increased over the past four years, but NGO-run shelters continued to operate under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. Additionally, funding delays hindered shelter operations, and the government decentralized funding mechanisms for all social programs to municipal governments in 2019. Municipality grants prioritized NGOs that provided 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 corruption. The four 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 assistance to 115 officially recognized and potential victims (78 in 2018), including 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. The government provided vocational training for 45 officially recognized and potential victims; however, experts reported a lack of resources for long-term care and reintegration efforts, particularly for child victims and victims with children. 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,” but the definition of that phrase 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 receive permission from the shelter director for their security. One NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for victims under the age of 18 and rented apartments for male victims, where they received assistance from NGOs. Observers reported the shelters in the NCATS had professional staff and good quality of care. 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; 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 one foreign victim (seven in 2018).
Unlike previous years, the government did not knowingly penalize victims, but it may have penalized some trafficking victims unknowingly due to inadequate identification efforts. Fourteen victims cooperated with law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions (five in 2017); however, the government did not consistently apply a victim-centered approach in investigations and prosecutions. In previous years, law enforcement did not consistently offer sufficient security and support, and victims and their families received threats during court proceedings. SPAK possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences, which was used in one case (the Serious Crimes Court used one in 2018). Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; one victim participated in the program (none in 2018). The government established the Development Center for Criminal Justice for Minors with four part-time prosecutors and a judicial police officer responsible for child protection in criminal proceedings. The government hired an additional 19 victim assistance coordinators for a total of 24, who provided legal assistance and guided victims in accessing services. Prosecutors did not seek restitution in criminal cases; no victims received restitution. Applicable law allowed victims to pursue compensation through civil suits. Authorities assisted in the voluntary repatriation of six Albanian victims (three in 2018). The government also repatriated a foreign victim to Kosovo (two in 2018).