The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection should urgently reform the system responsible for the safety, care and protection of foreign unaccompanied children, starting with the closure of unsafe social care services, holding responsible all those who have allowed the smuggling of foreign unaccompanied children into Albania and finally revising VKM 111/2019 as it not fully compliant with the national and international child rights norms!
Tirana, 18 October 2023 – This morning the Children’s Rights Centre albania (CRCA/ECPAT Albania), in the framework of the European Day against Trafficking in Human Beings, made public the main findings and recommendations of the Report “LOST IN PLAIN SITE”, which outlines the measures taken by authorities for the treatment, care and protection of foreign unaccompanied children, who have been smuggled, seek asylum or trafficked to Albania during the period 2019-2022.
CRCA/ECPAT Albania during April-June 2023 carried out a fact-finding mission in several districts of the country. The fact-gathering team of CRCA /ECPAT Albania visited Kapshtica and Kakavija border points with Greece, while at the national level public officials from institutions responsible for foreign unaccompanied children were interviewed, both from the state police, central and local child protection institutions, as well as national and international organizations working for child protection. At the same time our team has been in contact with the authorities of Montenegro and Kosovo, as well in relation to this matter.
During our visits and from the interviews conducted, it became evident that Albania, despite efforts, has not built a safe, protective, and functional system that would make it possible to protect and care for foreign unaccompanied children. From the official data of the State Police, it turns out that during the period 2019-2022, law enforcement authorities managed to identify 68 foreign unaccompanied children who crossed the Albanian border in an irremediable manner. All these children have disappeared, and no public official has information on where these children are.
According to the Report, both legally and organizationally, the attempts undertaken so far by the responsible authorities, both at central and local level, result in non-compliance or in open violation of the domestic legislation as well as the Council of Ministers Decision (VKM) 111/2019. Although the law on the rights of the child, the law on foreigners and the VKM 111/2019 clearly define the duties and responsibilities of state institutions, almost all cases of foreign unaccompanied children have not been followed the required legal procedures.
Unaccompanied children, contrary to the law, are not placed in a safe environment in the Municipality where they are identified at first (Gjirokastër and Devoll in almost all cases). They have not been assigned legal guardianship and neither have they been provided with social and educational services guaranteed by law. Contrary to the requirements of VKM 111/2019, all children have been escorted to Tirana and left in the care of an emergency centre run by a non-governmental organization. From interviews with public officials it turns out that the Centre is neither authorised under Albanian legislation nor by the authorities to provide care, safety and protection to foreign unaccompanied children. To our question “who authorized the placement of unaccompanied children in a private space that does not meet the required standards for the safety and protection of unaccompanied children”, national and local authorities did not provide an answer.
According to the interview with the head of the National Agency for Protection and Rights of the Child (ASHMDF), “The Albanian government does not have an agreement with this Centre to provide emergency services or shelter to foreign unaccompanied children.” The CRCA/ECPAT Albania team formally requested to interview the managers of the Centre, but they do not respond to our request for an interview. The modus operandi remains also completely unclear – i.e. who decides on the placement of children, who authorises what, who grants permission for the movement of children and who has cover the costs of children to be placed in this Centre, even for a short period of time.
According to the data collected, over the period 2019-2022, over 2000 foreign children accompanied and unaccompanied were identified by law enforcement authorities, most of them from countries in conflict such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, etc. The law requires foreign unaccompanied children to be taken into protective care by local authorities at the point of their entry, in coordination with ASHMDF. In any case, if the child does not apply for asylum in Albania – and from the interviews it turns out that most children have neither been offered nor sought asylum, authorities must provide security, safety, education, social protection etc., until it is decided whether the child will stay in Albania or return safely to the family. From the interviews, this procedure was never implemented.
Unaccompanied children, while they should have been placed in a social care institution (orphanage or specialised care centres), they should had been assigned a legal guardian by the Court, while an Individual Protection Plan (PIM) should had been adopted – procedural rights that have not been enjoyed by any of those children.
There is no official data or information about what happens to foreign unaccompanied children after their placement in Tirana. Some professionals believe that the children have moved towards Montenegro and Kosovo, but that means that the Albanian authorities have tacitly acknowledged that there is a well-organized network of smugglers and child traffickers within Albania – a clue missing from state reports on internal child trafficking and smuggling. Also the Police have neither declared any of the foreign unaccompanied children as missing nor have they issued any national or international searches, according to the requirements of the law.
“We are dealing with organised crime that has extended its control to all foreign unaccompanied children entering Albania. The authorities’ negligence to protect and care for these children makes the Police equally culpable. These children are at risk of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, slavery, illegal organ harvesting or even acts of terrorism. The authorities must urgently address this issue, based on the recommendations of the Report” said Altin Hazizaj, Director of CRCA/ECPAT Albania.
The State Police reported that during the same period 1127 Albanian and foreign citizens were detained or arrested for smuggling of human beings, most of them were prosecuted and tried in a free state.
Albania is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1992. In this context, Albania has the duty to build a system of care and treatment of unaccompanied children according to the recommendations of General Comment No. 6 (2005) of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, “On the treatment of separated or unaccompanied children located outside their country of origin”.
Based on these facts, CRCA/ECPAT Albania has the following recommendations for the Albanian Parliament, the Albanian Government, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection:
- Immediate closure of the so-called Emergency Centre that has housed and continues to house foreign unaccompanied children, until a legal solution guaranteeing the safety, protection, and respect of the rights of the child is found, according to the UN and Council of Europe recommendations. Foreign unaccompanied children should be treated as asylum seeker and they must be held in the premises of the National Centre for Asylum Seekers, until a National Centre for unaccompanied children is established.
- Open a national inquiry led by the MP’s Friends and Children Group, of the Albanian Parliament, to identify legal violations and to hold accountable all those who have allowed or closed their eyes to the smuggling of foreign unaccompanied children within the territory of Albania.
- Establish of a Task Force under the direction of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, which should address all the concerns observed in law enforcement, as well as finding practical solutions for inter-institutional coordination with state authorities in Greece, Montenegro, and Kosovo, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
- Urgently review the VKM No. 111 of 6.3.2019, “On procedures and rules for the return and repatriation of the child”, which exposes foreign unaccompanied children to violation of their basic rights – to bring it in compliance with the national and international best standards.
CRCA/ECPAT Albania is ready to offer its support and expertise in terms of improving this situation, which must be done urgently. Albanian authorities, within the framework of the European integration agenda, should adopt all EU standards for the care of foreign unaccompanied children.