Remarks by Ambassador Donald Lu at the Vatra TIP Open Forum

Deputy Minister Gjebrea, Mayor Dr. Leli, Prefect Hoxha, Rector Zisi, Vatra Executive Director Puka, dear students and professors,

I have had the opportunity to visit the three NGO shelters in Albania that support victims of trafficking, in Elbasan, in Tirana and here in Vlora.  One of my most powerful memories of my time in Albania is talking to the young girls who are recovering in these shelters.  They are some of the bravest people I have ever met in my life.

Some of them have been tricked into prostitution by offers of high-paying jobs as nannies, office workers or waitresses.  Some of them are barely older than my own children.  But all of them have had the courage to escape from slavery and come back home to Albania.  Not all of them have been welcomed by their families and communities.  Sadly, some of their families and communities do not understand that they have done nothing wrong and that they are the victims of this crime.

These young girls have the courage to be building better lives for themselves and to be supporting one another as they begin to recover from this traumatic experience.  I applaud the work of Vatra, Different and Equal, and Tjeter Vizion for the work they are doing to support people — normal people like you and me – who have been the victims of trafficking.  The people who work in these shelters, including Brikena who organized this forum today, are real heroes of Albania.

Another one of my heroes is Deputy Minister of Interior Elona Gjebrea.  She has fought every year to increase the activity of the Government of Albania in the fight against human trafficking.  She has secured more money for NGO programs, for staff salaries, for educating policemen and policewomen, and for prevention activities aimed at young people.  Her efforts are making a difference every day.

I want to acknowledge the work on awareness of trafficking of the mayor and the prefect.  Mrs. Hoxha is the chairperson of the regional anti-trafficking committee.  Vlora is blessed because of its trade and cultural links to Southern Italy.  It has also traditionally been a community that has suffered greatly from human trafficking.  The leadership of Dr. Leli, Mrs. Hoxha and local leaders is incredibly important and it requires the active participation and support of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Labor Inspectorate, as well as civil society.”

Finally, allow me to tell you what you already know.  There is much work left to be done.  Police and prosecutors must work more closely together to identify victims of trafficking.  Traffickers must be held responsible with longer prison sentences and full rights and protections for victims.  Local government call also do more by supporting the reintegration of trafficking victims into society and by providing them assistance.

For all the students joining us today, I hope that some of you will decide to be heroes of Albania and dedicate yourselves to the fight against trafficking.