Interview of Child Protection Specialists at UNICEF, David Gvineria, on Transforming National Response to Human Trafficking in and from Albania.
This year’s theme of the ‘World Day Against Trafficking in Persons’ is about first line responders to human trafficking, those professionals who despite all odds keep delivering lifesaving support to the victims of trafficking even in the times of Global distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has said Mr. David Gvineria, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF in Albania.
On this occasion Albanian Daily News talked with Mr. Gvineria to learn more on the significance of this Day (30 July) as well as on the project "Transforming National Response to Human Trafficking in and from Albania” which was launched on December 12, 2019.
In 2013, the UN member states adopted a resolution which designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. They declared that such a day was necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”
The UNICEF senior officer was enthusiastic about the project being led by the motto 'Stop Human Trafficking!' and revealed that the program covers four main areas of intervention while providing details of its targets and the work done so far although in the difficult conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, there is no place in the world that is safe or free of human trafficking, and it is no surprise that the situation in Albania follows this Global trend.” Children, especially those who are without parental care and/or unaccompanied are unfortunately one of the most and easiest targets for the traffickers and organized crime,” he said.
Further on Mr. Gvineria said, “Despite C19 challenges, everyone from the coalition made its absolute best not to slow down or stop activities, and as a result we managed to achieve a lot already.’
He explained the reasons why the project has targeted northern parts of the country and Tirana. “Northern regions of Albania, as much as they are breathtaking and beautiful, also suffer from very high levels of unemployment and ‘brain drain’, and these two factors often are the core ‘driving’ factors for people to take a risky step and fall prey of the traffickers. Tirana on other hand is a transitory area both for traffickers and those who are at risk of trafficking, so we had to take this into account too.”
In conclusion Mr. Gvineria praised the wonderful and diverse group of coalition members, Government counterparts and a lot more of other partners that joined the program along the way. “In this process, I also must underscore the invaluable and important role of the UK Embassy in Albania. Their and personally H.E Ambassador Norman’s engagement is exemplary and always brings added value to our work,” said Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF in Albania David Gvineria in the interview which follows:
-Mr. Gvineria it is a pleasure to have this conversation in the atmosphere of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. As this event is marked every year could you tell, please, ADN’s readers, which is the significance of the observation of such a day and the messages conveyed by it? And to be to the point: why does the world mark this International Day?
-The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons – 30 July - is an important day to recognize the immense work that is being done worldwide to address human trafficking. But this is also a day to reflect were we are and think about more effective ways to end human trafficking across the world.
This year’s theme is about first line responders to human trafficking, those professionals who despite all odds keep delivering lifesaving support to the victims of trafficking even in the times of Global distress. We are humbled by witnessing the same attitude among many Albanian professionals involved in addressing the issue of human trafficking.
Lastly, the importance of annually reflecting on the issue allows us to keep a close eye on the progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the respective Targets for which the Albanian government is committed to.
Fighting human trafficking allows us to combat all forms of organized crime, forced labor and exploitation (Target 8.7 and 16.4); End the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children (Target 16.2); Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (Target 5.2); and to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration (Target 10.7).
- Despite the concerted efforts of the Albanian Government, international organizations and civil society to combat the phenomenon, human trafficking continues to be a reality for many Albanian citizens, children, young girls and young people in particular. Speaking in concrete terms how serious is the HT problem in Albania and how many unaccompanied children are in danger?
-True. And I am afraid, no place in the world is safe or free of human trafficking. For example; a few years ago, the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the trafficking victims identified in 124 states were citizens of 152 different countries.
Furthermore, we know that the poor and the vulnerable are most at risk and unfortunately over 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims are women and girls, while nearly one third are children.
No surprise that the situation in Albania follows this Global trend. For instance, in 2018 the Government and NGOs jointly identified 95 official and potential victims of trafficking (105 in 2017). Of these, 28 were adults and 67 were minors (49 adults and 56 children in2017), 60 were female and 35 male(80 female and 25 male in 2017), andone was foreign (nine foreign victims in 2017). Top three forms of exploitation of these victims were: sex trafficking, forced labor, and forced begging. (Source: US Department of State, 2019, Trafficking in Persons Report: Albania)
Children, especially those who are without parental care and/or unaccompanied are unfortunately one of the most and easiest targets for the traffickers and organized crime.
- Under the motto 'Stop Human Trafficking' the project “Transforming National Response to Human Trafficking in and from Albania” was launched on December 12, 2019. In this frame, according to you, which are the main targets of the project and its initial results in the first period of implementation?
-Yes indeed, though the launching itself was very modest, because we all were battling the devastating results of the November earthquake. However, we were delighted to form a wonderful and diverse coalition from local and international NGOs such as Different & Equal, VATRA, Tjeter Vizion and Terre des Hommes, as well as OSCE presence in Albania.
Our program covers four main areas of intervention:
1.Reserching this phenomenon and rolling-out proactive strategic communication, especially targeting most at risk population;
2. Strengthening effectiveness of investigation, prosecution and overall application of justice to those who perpetrated and those who have survived the horror of trafficking;
3. Early identification, immediate protection and long-term re-integration of victims of trafficking; and
4. Early recognition of risk factors (root causes) to trafficking among at- risk and vulnerable populations, prevention work and strengthening of their resilience.
Despite C19 challenges, everyone from the coalition made its absolute best not to slow down or stop activities, and as a result we managed to achieve a lot already. For instance:
Very important research on knowledge and attitudes towards human trafficking is currently ongoing and very soon we will have an invaluable piece of information which will help to target our communication efforts better.
Preparation work is ongoing to host a large scale and real situation based simulation training course in Albania in October. Various groups of law enforcements and other professionals will be involved in this special joint exercise to better address the investigative capacities in the country and improve fight against human trafficking and human traffickers.
Three new Mobile Units for proactive identification of Potential/Victims of Trafficking (P/VoT) in Kukes, Dibra and Shkodra are in place and fully operational.
The Municipality of Shkodra was supported to improve its emergency response to victims of domestic violence.
Emergency response protection teams in Tirana (composed of 6 social workers and 6 psychologists and three drivers), provide immediate assistance to (potential) victims of trafficking as soon as they receive a notification. This also includes safe transportation and psychosocial support 24/7, covering weekends and holidays as well.
Emergency safe accommodation is offered at multi-functional center "House of Colors" which is based in Tirana, with temporary accommodation (up to 72 hours) that is able to host up to 7 children and 5 adults (mothers usually) at high and immediate risk situation. All COVID-19 protocols and prevention measures endorsed by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection are applied as necessary;
28 beneficiaries (23 children and 5 Mothers) received emergency protection services during past months. 70% of the assisted children needed emergency services at police stations. 7 beneficiaries (4 children and 3 mothers) received emergency services COVID-19 related;
52 adults and children received a complete package of services in the shelters for the victims of trafficking operated by the coalition member organisations.
30 families at risk were identified (20 in Kukes, 10 in Shkodra) and they are currently being assessed for tailored-made support;
Professional mental health and psychological counselling platform www.nukjevetem.al since late March is providing online services to individuals affected or at risk for human trafficking. The service also covers issues of more general nature related to anxiety caused by COVID-19. 1,345 people already requested this online service, through chat and emails.
-The project details the target areas of action and the hotspots. It is obvious to observe that most of the hotspots are in northern and central areas of Albania. Given your past expertise in this sensitive field, please can you tell us which are the reasons making these areas so much different from other areas of this Balkan country?
-You are right, this time we are targeting northern parts of the country and Tirana. But to say that the south or central part of the country is not affected by Trafficking would be wrong. However as often, we have more needs than resources and so some periodization is necessary. Northern regions of Albania, as much as they are breathtaking and beautiful, also suffer from very high levels of unemployment and ‘brain drain’, and these two factors often are the core ‘driving’ factors for people to take a risky step and fall prey to the traffickers. Tirana on other hand is a transitory area both for traffickers and those who are at risk of trafficking, so we had to take this into account too.
-What can you say about the work done on marginalized and vulnerable groups like Roma community who can be easy victims of HT?
-Roma community is indeed requiring reinforced support and attention. We are always keeping in mind at the planning stage this important equity focus. The program of human trafficking won’t be different. The Services which are already up and running and those which we will set up soon are and will be focusing around areas where Roma community resides.
-In the meantime what is UNICEF doing to help those who return for their reintegration for not becoming victims of trafficking again?
-This is a very important and good question! COVID-19 crisis exacerbated all pre-pandemic vulnerabilities; however, its economic impact is still to be lived through. UNICEF as the coalition lead, which implements the UK Government supported anti-trafficking program in Albania, has recently launched a specific and tailored economic reintegration program for survivors of trafficking and those at high risk of it. The initiative will be rolled out from September 2020 and will cover 6 regions (Tirana, Shkoder, Kukes, Diber, Vlora and Elbasan). The program is aiming to:
- Support the provision of soft skills and life skills necessary for successful employment and self-employment;
- Create opportunities for people to learn about information and communications technologies (ICTs);
- Roll-out Vocational Training in Public Vocational Training Centres/Career counselling and most importantly support with seed funding opportunities for employment and self-employment.
In this endeavour, UNICEF partnered with the local business organization “Key Adviser” ltd, which will deliver the services and implement the program in all 6 target areas. The initiative aims to reach around 240 people who will directly benefit from the program.
-The project is expected to conclude on March 31, 2021. According to your estimations, what do you expect to achieve at the end of the project?
-We would like to directly support around 250 Law Enforcement, Prosecution and Judiciary professionals; We are aiming to engage around 240 victims or potential victims of trafficking in the economic empowerment program and secure their financial independence; We are planning to provide support to around 150 young people and children to help them avoid school drop-out; We will secure safe and dignified shelter and full package of services for at least 125 identified victims or potential victims of trafficking; We will have 3 different researches ready to better understand why and how people fall into the trap of traffickers and what drives them to such risky behavior; and finally we are hoping to support the Government, The Office of National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Ministry of Interior, with the development of a new National Action Plan on Anti-Trafficking.
-As a follow up, how is the government responding to this phenomenon and what can you reveal of its cooperation with you, especially at these stormy times of the coronavirus pandemic which has hit Albania as the entire world?
-The overall cooperation and coordination with the responsible Government structures so far was excellent. The Office of National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, as well as Regional Anti Trafficking Committees in Tirana, Shkoder, Kukes and Diber were extremely open and ready for collaboration. So we are just hoping that this close partnership will continue regardless of C19 challenges.
- As we are talking on C19 repercussions what can you say on the restrictions imposed by the pandemic on the work of your staff, a contribution which often is overlooked and unrecognized?
- Indeed. C19 took its toll on all of us. UNICEF staff, like everyone else, had to battle on two fronts, working from home and taking care of family members and dependents who became locked for a significant amount of time in March-May. The mobility and public gathering restrictions also formed additional barriers to us to be available in the field. We had to cut down or abandon some field visits, we had to move to new normalcy of online communication, which is of course possible but not always effective. But we are UNICEF and adversities of the environment and emergencies are part of our work and training, so we will deliver as we promised to Albanian people and children.
-To conclude, Sir, what can you say on the cooperation of the partners of the project in its implementation and how is it coordinated and monitored during the implementation?
- As mentioned earlier, we have a wonderful and diverse group of coalition members, Government counterparts and lot more of other partners that joined our program along the way. The coordination happened at different levels. Central level coordination is always led by our Government counterpart, the Office of Anti-Trafficking Coordinator; while regional coordination happens with the involvement of all partners active in the region and with the leadership of the Regional Anti-Trafficking Committee. In this process, I also must underscore the invaluable and important role of the UK Embassy in Albania. Their and personally H.E Ambassador Norman’s engagement is exemplary and always brings added value to our work.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/albania.