For the crime of being an Albanian, a seven-year-old girl can not get a visa to travel to Italy once a month for a blood transfusion that will keep her alive. This is the story of one of my work colleagues, Iris*. Her daughter, once a pretty, happy girl, is unrecognizably bloated from the heavy medications she must now take in order to live. If Iris had permission to travel to Italy, for two days once a month, Iris’s daughter would not have to take these disfiguring medications. Her parents live in Italy, in a city in the north, and doctors in a hospital there have agreed to treat the little girl, which they have certified in writing. Not good enough, the Italian embassy says. Hospitals in Albania do not have the equipment or the expertise to treat the little girl and, thus, Iris wants to bring her to Italy for treatment. She has no intention on settling there because, as she told me, her family, another daughter and her husband, are here in Albania.
Forget trying to get treatment in Greece; for an Albanian to get a visa to travel to Greece is a long, expensive, and sometimes fruitless, process. The expense and difficulty of travel for Albanians bound for certain countries was brought home to me the other day when, while visiting a prison, a pastor warned me to keep my eyes on my passport. It could be worth upwards of $28,000 to the right person because a forged US passport would allow an Albanian to travel without a visa to Greece, Italy, and into the EU.
Why is it so difficult for Iris to get to Italy for her daughter’s treatment? The Italian embassy in Albania rarely offers visas to children for fear of facilitating trafficking in children. New attention has been focused on the practice of child trafficking, partially at the impetus of the Albanian government. The Albanian government recently signed an agreement with Greece that, while still awaiting ratification in the Greek government, attempts to decrease the incidence of children trafficked from Albania for begging or labor exploitation. The new agreement would identify and protect Albanian children who were trafficked to Greece in collaboration with the Albanian government until these children are 18 years old. Children should be repatriated only if they desire to return to Albania (which, government officials assume, they probably will not) so a lot of the financial burden is put on Greece under this agreement. This may explain why Greece has been slow to ratify the agreement. The Albanian government is also looking into agreements on child trafficking collaboration with other surrounding countries, including Italy. It is not hard to see these children in Albania as well, they are everywhere, begging for money or attempting to sell you some cigarettes.
It goes without saying that addressing the issue of child trafficking is an imperative. These children should be in school, not exploited on the streets, begging for change and being abused by passers by. However, when officials stick to the letter of policy, when they don’t investigate individual cases properly, when they deny permission to travel to a sick little girl, they harm the very children that they are attempting to protect. Finding a way forward that protects children without impinging on their human rights, particularly when their lives are at stake, is critical. Policy should not be wrapped up in a stereotyped image of the Albanian as trafficker, the Albanian as mafioso. In the words of Yeats, “But O, sick children of the world,/ Of all the many changing things/ In dreary dancing past us whirled…Words alone are certain good.” Words alone will not save Iris’s daughter.
What are Iris’s options now? She can only wait and hope that the Italian embassy will issue a visa that will save her daughter’s life. As Iris put it, “What can I do now? Nothing. The Italian embassy couldn’t care less. This is what it is to be Albanian in this world.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity
Posted By Jennifer Hollinger
Posted Jul 13th, 2007