People - perfect for illegal trade

Alfred PEZA

MON, 24 JUL 2000

Tirana, July 16, 2000 - After the war in Kosovo, profits of the Albanian organised crime from arms and drugs trade fell which was compensated by profits from illegal trade in people. Recently, a satirical magazine in Rome wrote that "Italy is a peninsula flooded by the Albanians", thus voicing its concern over the illegal crossings of the Albanians to Italy.

At the beginning of the previous decade, the Albanian migrations over the Adriatic Sea were pushed to the background by the arrival of Chinese, Kurds and other peoples coming from the Middle East. Last year was the first time that over 50 percent of illegal refugees, who used Albania as country of transit on their way to Western Europe, were foreigners. In the meantime over 28 thousand of illegal refugees who came to Italy over the Albanian shores, were repatriated.

ALL RIVERS ARE FLOWING - In the general confusion of illegal crossings, the officials find it hard to precisely determine the number of illegal entrants to EU across the Italian borders. Chief of Europolice, Jill Leclerc, points out that each year some 500 thousand people manage to cross the borders of the 15 member countries. All rivers of illegal Europeans, Asians and Africans coming across borders, join this sea of illegal entrants. One of these channels, which leads over the Balkan routes, crosses over Albania. A river with two tributaries, of which the one is being fed with refugees from Asia, Middle East and Northern Africa, and the other one mostly filled with prostitutes from former communist Eastern Europe. According to the reports of the Albanian police which is deeply involved in the struggle against the Mafia, refugees come over the land routes from Greece, Macedonia and Montenegro or by air over the only international airport in Tirana. Kurds from Turkey or those from the Northern Iraq pay as much as $ 2,000 per person for their hard journey towards Italy, over Albania. On the other hand, one Chinese has to pay as much as $ 5 thousand to smugglers.

After the recent arrest of a group of Kurd refugees from Iraq, the police found out that each of them had paid US $ 1 thousand for crossing the Turkish border and journey over Greece. Horrible torturing journey in a closed mini-van ended in Thessaloniki. There started the second stage of their voyage towards Albania. In Thessaloniki, a Turk who took charge of their Western adventure, met with an Albanian and a Greek. There all Kurd refugees had to hand over another US $ 800. With this amount the traffickers undertook to secure their crossing over the Greek border and transfer to the Albanian illegal traders, as well as their later journey to Italy by a small ship.

On the southern Albanian coast, a group of illegal refugees was arrested just a few moments before starting towards the shores of Pulia. After they disembarked the illegal refugees said that an Italian was supposed to take them after they paid once more. The sum they were expected to give was to cover the expenses of a taxi drive to the nearest railway station.

In order to get to the Balkans, the Chinese refugees travel by plane directly to Tirana or some neighbouring country with Albania. Two Chinese from the camp of the National Centre for Asylum Seekers in the town of Rogosina - some 60 kilometres south of Tirana - said that they paid US $ 3,5000 for a journey by boat to Montenegro. For a transfer from a Montenegrin port to the northern border of Albania they had to pay additional $ 500. Then another thousand dollars to get to Vlore, wherefrom they would get over the Adriatic to the Italian coast in a small boat. Albania is the last geographic border between East and West which is only 70 nautical miles away from the Italian borders. Every night quick ships cross the straits between the two countries loaded with illegal refugees.

The white meat factory "Luka" in Durrese is considered the centre of the drug traffic going from Albanian to Italy. And the town of Vlore ranks first in trade in people. The jump of a prostitute from the fourth floor of a building forced the authorities to establish a centre for their reception in this town. A Christian society stationed in Tirana takes care of girls from all over the country that have been arrested by the police. Its staff works on their rehabilitation and completes the procedure for their repatriation. This year, in Vlore alone, this Organisation took over from the police custody 140 girls from Moldavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Montenegro and Albania whose mentors were preparing them for the pavements and whorehouses of the West.

According to a report of the Investigating Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA), each year 2,000 girls in Italy are used as slaves risking to join 50 thousand of prostitutes who are working the pavements and in whorehouses in this country. Some of them have crossed over to Albania before ending up on the lighted streets of Italy.

The Albanian network trick local girls to join them by promising that they would work as babysitters, top models, waitresses or house help. Major part of their contingents they buy from groups in Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. Illegal prostitution networks use the northern town of Shkoder as their base for the acceptance of contingents which come from Montenegro. The police is investigating a centre in Macedonia, near the border village of Velez, from which they come, as well as one in the Albanian village of Lin, near Pogradec, on the eastern border of Albania with Macedonia. Girls from Greece are "welcomed" by illegal traders' network in the southern district of Gjirokaster. In some cases even the police members are involved. Last year, police agents arrested in his house the chief of anti-crime unit in the town of Kucovi, in central Albania, together with two prostitutes from Moldavia.

During 1999, the Albanian police and Prosecutor's Office have charged 135 persons for trading in prostitutes, helping and keeping prostitution facilities. On the other hand, according to a DIA report, over 240 cases are currently being tried in Italy for trade in women and members of minority communities for sexual abuse purposes. About one half of the accused in these processes are Albanians.

INDUSTRY OF ILLEGAL REFUGEES - A giant fleet of powerful boats and inflatable dinghies work for the illicit trade in people. They are operated by a network of local illicit tradesmen who closely cooperate with Chinese and Turkish mafia, which over the Balkan routes bring Asians to the Albanian shores. The chain is then continued with the ring of powerful Italian mafia.

From November 24, 1997 the Italian-Albanian Mission for the Fight against Illegal Trade in the Adriatic is actively working in Albania and has blocked 971 vessels in that period. To the Vlore Police Headquarters alone, this Mission has surrendered 5,800 illegal refugees and arrested 123 local illegal traders and two Italians. It has been calculated that the annual balance from the world trade in people reaches the sum of three billion dollars. It is not known what is the value of the morsel that goes to the Albanian illegal traders in people.

"During investigation one fact was recognised: that organised networks control about 90 percent of this industry which is worth millions", says Bujar Himci, Director of the Albanian Anti-Mafia Section. "Illegal refugees frequently come not only in closed vans and by road, but also by air", adds Agim Tirana, Investigation Director in the Republican Prosecutor's Office. According to him, several officials of the international airport in Tirana are under investigation. Several foreign firms, which have their business in Albania, have also been placed under surveillance. "There are strong doubts that behind their legal activities is the illegal slave trade ", says Tirana.

Lists of Asian or North African nationals who came to Albania at the request of the management of these firms, were discovered at the airport. Under the Albanian law, one must have guarantees of an entity operating in the country in order to get into the country. Investigators have their doubts regarding the fact that Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare has issued 178 licences to the Egyptian firms, 276 to Chinese and 409 to Turkish. After tragic events in Dover, when 58 Chinese emigrants died of suffocation during their illegal journey towards Britain in a sealed truck, Public Prosecutor's Office started the verification of activities of suspicious firms. These have been registered for business activities in manufacturing, trade, civil engineering, then as charity associations or tourist agencies. Investigators' suspicions have increased lately, especially since they got hold of a list of foreign firms actively doing business in Albania. Chief investigating officer in Albania says: "We are amazed by the fact that we have here twice as much Asian and Egyptian entities compared to the number of firms from Italy and Greece, which are our neighbours."

Original article