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2005 (Narrative date)

Born in Albania, Elira was trafficked into Italy, where trafficking victims also arrive from Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, China, and South America. One NGO estimates that 48 percent of the prostitutes in Italy are from Eastern Europe.

Many women are trafficked into richer Western European countries from the poorer Eastern countries, including Albania. The fall of communism in 1991 led to a rise in organized crime in Albania: in 2001 it was estimated 100,000 Albanian women and girls had been trafficked to Western European and other Balkan countries in the preceding ten years. More than 65 percent of Albanian sex-trafficking victims are minors at the time they are trafficked, and at least 50 percent of victims leave home under the false impression that they will be married or engaged to an Albanian or foreigner and live abroad. Another ten percent are kidnapped or forced into prostitution. The women and girls receive little or no pay for their work, and are commonly tortured if they do not comply.

I am from Elbasan. When I was 15, my parents married me, against my will, to a man aged 35, whom I did not love. So started my miseries. Not too long afterwards, I abandoned him and returned to my family. But my parents did not accept me back because I had dishonored them by leaving my husband. I had no support and nowhere to go. I got acquainted with a boy who was 20 who said he loved me and promised to marry me. He convinced me to go to Italy for “a better life.”

I thought my sufferings now were at an end, but I did not know the real hell that was expecting me. I was compelled to work on the street. I did so for nearly three years. My exploiter savagely battered me frequently, mainly when I did not bring home the required sum or when he faced drug trafficking problems. During that time I gave birth to a son.

Once he beat me so hard that I cannot remember, and I fell on the floor. A friend of mine passing by to meet me found me on the floor, covered in blood. She saved my life by taking me to the hospital. I gave evidence in Italy and returned to Albania with my son. Again, they did not accept me. They took in my son only, and I could not take care of him.

Being destitute on the street again, I was forced to prostitute in Tirana, in the hotels and motels. I slept wherever I could—on the street, in the park. I decided my condition would be better in Italy. When I returned there, I worked on the street again and was caught by the police and taken back to Albania a second time. I find calmness and support in the shelter, and I now contemplate my future. I do not want anything else except to go home, to see and take care of my son, to be the mother he missed for so long.

Narrative as told to the International Organization for Migration, with the Association of Albanian Girls and Women, 2005, in Tirena, Albania.