In the last few days, temperatures have reached into the 40s. That`s hot, really hot. When it`s hot and sticky out, what do most Albanians do? Wait in endless cues to pay their bills in cash (forget credit cards, nowhere but the highest end hotels in Tirana will accept them), each bill requiring appearing personally before the respective agency or company for whose service they are paying. Then they drink coffee. Lots of coffee. With lots and lots of sugar. Saying that Albanians have a sweet tooth is the mother of all understatements.
Unlike in the United States where you can pay your bills with money that you don`t have without ever venturing out of your house, you must pay your bills in hard currency in Albania. You had also better get up early; many government offices and other companies are open at 8 AM and closed by 130 PM. Some offices reopen from 6-8 PM but, frequently, this reopening happens only on paper or in theory.
Recently, my Albanian colleagues have been helping me to get clearance to visit a major women`s prison in Albania, where, among women arrested for prostitution, there are some trafficking victims. Last month, this process required submitting a passport number to the appropriate government agency and arriving at the door of the prison with one`s passport. We submitted this information before I had even left the United States in May. But the regulations changed again. Now I was required to submit a copy of my passport. Done. Wait, now you are required to submit the offer letter from Advocacy Project so they know what you are doing in Albania. Done. Yesterday, I learned that we must submit a copy of my CV. We are still waiting to find out if I have finally satisfied the requirements.
Things take time in Albania. Rules seem to change overnight for no particular reason. How can anyone keep up with what the new system or the new regulations are? More importantly, how will the new National Referral System for Victims of Trafficking ever be effectively implemented? As much as we may all want change to happen quickly, we must realize that it takes time. We have to be realistic about what the government here can provide and accomplish. This is a poor state and, without outside help, it`s ability to achieve it`s goals is limited.
Who suffers in all of this? The victims of trafficking. They are the ones who do not receive the services they so desperately need. Many trafficked women in Albania, due to poverty and desperation, are actually forced to seek out their traffickers and be retrafficked in order to survive. They don`t do this blindly or out of ignorance, they take a calculated risk. Don`t make the mistake of thinking that trafficking is a problem that happens out there, in Albania, in some other country and it doesn`t happen here (the US, UK, wherever).
During a meeting I had this Wednesday at a prominent charity that operates throughout the world and has an active branch in Tirana, the woman I was interviewing with told me, “the whole world is implicated in trafficking.” There isn`t a country that isn`t touched by the phenomenon, whether it is a country of origin, transit or destination. These women and girls are going somewhere, they are forced into prostitution to satisfy a demand. We have to acknowledge that sex trafficking is a global phenomenon, not an “Albanian problem” and we must work internationally and interorganizationally to end it.
Posted By Jennifer Hollinger
Posted Jul 5th, 2007