There are an estimated 23,000 people in modern slavery in Belgium (GSI 2018). People are subjected to sex and labour trafficking in the country, with foreign-born people coming primarily from Asia, Eastern Europe, North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Labour traffickers exploit men in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses and retail shops, they also exploit foreign workers in domestic servitude. Sex trafficker exploit Belgian girls, some of whom recruited by local pimps, and foreign children, including Roma. Forced begging within the Romani community in Belgium also occurs, while asylum seekers often have their applications for legal status denied, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.
M was walking to a friend’s house when she was abducted and taken to a house in Vlore where other girls were being kept. After being held there for two weeks, M was smuggled by boat to Italy and then on to Paris by train and then on again to Brussels. Upon arrival, M was forced into prostitution, subjected to physical and sexual abuse daily. One night, M was rescued by police who referred her to a shelter who are assisting M in reuniting with her family.
My name is M. I was born in Korce in Albania in 1984. I lived with my family in the outskirts of Korce. Last summer when I was walking to a friend's house a car drew by and two men offered to drive me to my friend's house. One of the men was a cousin of my brother's friend. Instead of driving me to my friend's place, they took me to a house in Vlore, where a few other girls were staying. They told me that my brother wanted me to go to Italy, where I could work for an Albanian family and earn money to support my family. They also threatened me that bad things could happen to my family if I would resist them or try to run away.
I lived for two weeks in this house. I stayed with two other girls in a small room and we were not allowed to go out. One girl came from Moldova and the other girl came from Berat.
One evening we were taken from the house and brought to the seashore. There we waited for two hours before embarking on a boat. We were accompanied by one of the men who took me to Vlore. There was also another man whom I had never seen before. There were about 40 people on this small boat. We were not allowed to speak to the other passengers but I heard that we were heading for Italy. I was scared as it was night and the boat traveled at a very high speed.
We arrived the same night in Italy and had to jump out into the water about 30 meters from the coastline. There were cars waiting to pick up some of the passengers. We were taken to a house where we stayed overnight. The next day two other men took us to the train station and we left for Milan. There was a car waiting for us and we were taken to a house where we stayed for two days. We then took the train to Paris. The men who had transferred us to Italy didn't go with us. Only me and the girl from Moldova took off to Paris. The other girl from Albania remained in Milan. Two Albanians who accompanied us told us that if we would be controlled on the train we had to pretend to be their sisters. There was no control on that train. In Paris we took a train to Brussels where we were picked up by another man. He spoke Albanian, but I don't think he was from my country. They drove us to a house in Antwerp.
The same night one of the men told us that we had to work in prostitution. I told him that I didn't want to work in prostitution, but he threatened me severely. That very night I was forced by another man to have sexual intercourse. He told me that this would be a preparation for my new job. I cried and said that my brother would never agree to this. They told me that my brother was in Albania and wouldn't be much of a help.
I worked for one month in a window. I had several clients a day and was forced to hand over all the money they paid me. I was heavily guarded by those people and beaten up on several occasions. They often threatened to kill me or harm my family if I wouldn't comply. I was afraid of them as I knew they carried guns and were on drugs.
One night police came in the window and took me to the police station. I stayed for several hours at the police station and told my story. They referred me to the Payoke shelter where I have been staying for three weeks now. They helped me to contact my family. My father told me that my brother had been receiving threats by this gang in Korce. I want to return as quickly as possible to my family in Albania. My father is planning to move to another place as it might be dangerous for us in Korce. The social workers from Payoke are assisting me and are currently arranging my return to Albania. They also contacted an organization in Albania to assist me upon my return home.
Narrative courtesy of the Association for Albanian Girls and Women
The organisation’s True Stories of trafficking survivors can be found here