The U.S. State Department released its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report this week, which indicates that Kosovo has a long way to go to tackle the phenomenon. As with last year, Kosovo has been categorized as a Tier 2 country, meaning it has “not fully met Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards” but is “making significant efforts” to do so.
According to the report, the country “demonstrated increasing effort” in identifying more victims and convicting more traffickers in 2016 than in 2015. In the beginning of June this year, Kosovo police shut down 34 nightclubs in an operation to crackdown on human trafficking.
Skender Hyseni, Kosovo’s Minister of Internal Affairs said that his ministry is dedicated to fight human trafficking, and praised the work of the Police, saying that they had done an “extraordinary job” and vowed to continue fighting human trafficking. “They’ve ‘dismantled’ lots of nests of prostitution camouflaged as massage centers and have arrested a large number of people,” he said.
However, the report also said the main problems in Kosovo regarding human trafficking are lenient sentences for offenders, decreased funding for NGO-run shelters and official complicity.
Judges have continued to sentence offenders below the minimum penalty of five years imprisonment. Only one individual out of 24 convicted in 2016 received a five year and six months prison sentence; other sentences were between three and a half years imprisonment and fines of just over 1,000 euros. Observers referenced in the report state that many prosecutors and judges were not specialized, hence the light sentences and downgrading of cases to lesser crimes.
In addition, the report also said that Kosovar courts have not decreased the backlog of trafficking cases and 95 cases remained open by the end of 2016.
Kosovo identified 36 victims of human trafficking in 2016 compared to 28 the previous year; of the 2016 victims, 26 were subject to sex trafficking, nine to forced labor and one to “slavery and servitude.” The vast majority of victims (34) were women and exactly half were children.
NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims reported that funds were insufficient and they could not operate without funding assistance from foreign embassies. The requirement for funding applications to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare every six months also caused gaps in funding while applications were being processed.
“We almost had to close at the end of this month because of a six-month long application for funding,” a spokesperson for the Center for Protection of Victims and Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings (PVPT) told K2.0.
PVPT provides shelter and reintegration training for trafficking victims and also work on measures to prevent human trafficking. The spokesperson said most of their clients are women because most of the human trafficking victims in Kosovo are women who have been victims of sexual exploitation, and that many are minors.
PVPT is particularly frustrated with the government’s low funding for specialized support for human trafficking victims. “There are only two [specialized] shelters in Kosovo,” the spokesperson said. “The government should provide sustainable funds for sustainable results.”
Despite an increase of identified victims in 2016 compared to the previous year, the government allocated just 171,010 euros for victim protection, almost 10,000 euros less than it did in 2015.
The U.S. State Department’s report also notes that cases of complicity are exemplified by two policemen, who were indicted last year in separate cases on suspicion of abusing official statuses and exploiting trafficking victims sexually.
In one of the biggest cases of trafficking in Kosovo’s recent history, in 2014 two labor ministry officials issued work permits to 22 foreign workers, who were later identified as trafficking victims. They were fined just 3,000 euros each — an amount that the Court of Appeal ruled last year not to increase, while the officials both kept their public sector jobs.
Human traffickers usually recruit victims through “false promises of marriage, or employment offers in cafes, night-clubs and restaurants,” the report says, with most victims being girls who were forced into prostitution and other forms of sex work. Poor and economically underprivileged groups are usually subject to forced begging and sexual exploitation, while children are mainly forced into begging but are also used as “dancers and escorts” and become vulnerable to sex trafficking.
“It is painful when you stop in crossroads in the roads of our city and you see such a large number of children beggars,” said Hyseni. “I assure you that 99 percent of these children are manipulated by a big boss behind them.”K
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