ALBANIA: Police Arrest Child Traffickers

The authorities are attempting to stamp out an appalling international trade in Albanian children.

ALBANIA: Police Arrest Child Traffickers

The authorities are attempting to stamp out an appalling international trade in Albanian children.

Albanian police have leapt into action against child traffickers who have smuggled thousands of the youngsters abroad where they're enslaved by the mafia and killed for organ transplants.

About a dozen suspects have been arrested along the coast and in the east, trafficking bases for Italy and Greece respectively.

The interior ministry estimates that in recent years 6,000 children have been smuggled overseas, two-thirds in Italy and the remainder to Greece.

The drive against trafficking in drugs, people and children was one of the first actions taken by the new Albanian government when it came to power in August.

Police in Tirana and in the eastern Korce district confirmed they were mounting a major operation against the traffickers. "We already have strong evidence of an organisation taking children to Greece," one officer said in Korce.

Children smuggled abroad are sold to the mafia who force them to beg and have been known to kill them and use their organs for lucrative transplant operations.

Albania's post-communist economic hardship impelled many orphans and children from poor families to move to the Adriatic coast in the hope of finding a way over to Italy, a land of plenty in their eyes.

In Durres, street children change all the time. Some disappear and others take their place. The same problem exists in other port towns like Vlore, Sarande in the south and Shengjin in the north.

"Durres is the best place for us, it's nearer to Italy," one of the children said. "But if the police move us on we just go to some other town." Another child from Berat said they survived on money and food handed out by generous people. "We are here only temporarily. What we want is to go there," said one group of three children pointing toward a line of Italy-bound ferries.

Gangsters wait at the port to take the children under their "protection". They quickly find a way to smuggle them on to ferries, fishing boats, commercial ships or speedboats. "The children hide in corners of the boat and are very determined to reach Italy," said the captain of the Frosina private ferry. "When we find them we turn them back."

Petrit Myderrizi, a sailor, said dogs had been brought in to help with security "but the children still find a way to hide".

Researchers have concluded the best way to tackle the problem is to take the children off the streets and find places for them in work programmes. One NGO, supported by the World Bank and The Youth Union of Human Rights, recently launched such a project. "Everybody despises these children, that's the greatest problem to start with," said sociologist Nadia Grabovari.

Meanwhile, police are pressing ahead with arrests of smugglers. Police detained Gjon Staka and his wife Vera in Durres as they tried to smuggle two children aged seven and 12 across to Italy. Italian officers seized another couple, Nazmi Kreka and Floresha Hoxha for trafficking at least 36 children.

The most important arrest came in September when Agron Myrtezaj was accused of selling his very young children, some only a few day old, over a three-year period from 1999. He charged buyers between 40,000 leks (280 US dollars) to 55,000 leks per child. One of the buyers was a Greek citizen.

In Mid-October, officers arrested Naim Salla who had allegedly bought children from

Myrtezaj. Two weeks ago, they detained Durim Dojtani who had collaborated with Salla. Police sources speculated that Salla and Dojtani were linked with the Albanian couple arrested in Italy.

Çerçiz Loloçi is editor of the daily newspaper Tema

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