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2005 (Narrative date)

Born in Albania, Zamira was trafficked into Belgium, where by some estimates Albanian girls aged 14 and 15 make up nearly half of the foreign women forced into prostitution. 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.

When I was a senior in high school here in Tirana, I met a boy who did not go to my school. He was kind, attractive, and treated me well. After a time, we fell in love with each other—or so I thought at the time. He was my ‘first love,’ and I hadn’t had much experience with boys romantically prior to that.

After dating for a time, he convinced me to go to Belgium with him. He said that he could get a good job there and told me about what a wonderful place it was: how clean, how beautiful, and how many opportunities there would be there for us. He proposed to me, and our plan was to leave Albania illegally (since we would not qualify for visas) and get married once he found work there. I was in love, and I believed him. Once we got to Belgium, however, he totally changed. He became abusive of me and violated me many times. He threatened my life and the lives of my family members. I did not speak the language there and was totally dependent on him; I had nowhere else to go and was afraid. He trafficked me for six months. I don’t want to talk anymore about that time. It was the worst period in my life. It is now in my past, and I have closed that door behind me.

I was able to find a shelter there with people to help me return to Albania. I wanted to return to my family here, but my father would not accept me and was abusive of me and my mother. My mother decided to leave my father to help me, even though this is something unheard of in Albania for a woman to leave her husband. Women here can’t really find work to support themselves and have to rely on their fathers or husbands for their livelihood. My mother gave up everything for me, and for this I am grateful. After living in the shelter for as long as we were allowed, my mother and I are now living together and trying to support ourselves.

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