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Asylos and ARC Foundation: The situation of trafficked boys and young men from Albania

Written by Maya Pritchard, Asylos, 02 June 2019

Asylos and ARC Foundation are pleased to announce the publication of their joint report "Albania: Trafficked Boys and Young Men". The report addresses a critical gap in country of origin information (COI) in the UK refugee status determination procedure. It combines relevant and timely publicly available material with new information generated by interviewing individuals with authoritative knowledge on the topic. The report contributes to promoting fairer decision making on applications from some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers. It can be downloaded here.

The critical need to prioritise risk-profiles of children and young people has become increasingly apparent as lawyers [1] are consistently raising their concerns about the scarcity of available information in relation to child-specific persecution and harm in particular countries. At the forefront of this learning has been the growing recognition of the significant gaps in evidence which are consistently acting as a barrier to successful protection claims from young people from Albania in the UK.

This is especially stark as Albanian children regularly form one of the top five largest groups of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK, yet out of 58 initial decisions on Albanian children's cases in 2018, not one was granted asylum or humanitarian protection [2]. This was despite Albania being the third-most prominent foreign country of origin for trafficked children identified in the UK in 2018 [3].

Existing COI makes very little reference to male victims of trafficking, with almost no mention in the 2019 Home Office Country Policy and Information Note, Albania: People Trafficking, in which only female victims are recognised as a 'particular social group'. The Migrant and Refugee Children's Legal Unit (MiCLU), a specialist legal and policy hub based at Islington Law Centre in London, told us that:

"Data from reputable sources illustrating that the children's narratives are consistent with what those people working on the ground in Albania are seeing is lacking, and many decisions state simply that they don't believe the children/ young people and it is not credible that they were trafficked in this way."

Based on this alarming situation, the trafficking of Albanian boys and young men became the topic for our first strategic research report in this series. Now having spent the last year researching and compiling all of the available up-to-date COI, along with new evidence produced by interviewing sources with expertise and experience relating to the topic, we are pleased to be able to share our findings. The report covers nine key research areas relating to the trafficking of Albanian boys and young men, spans over two hundred pages in length, and includes interviews with ten different individuals and organisations. Whilst it will be clear to readers that sources held a range of different and sometimes diverging opinions, we found that there was some consensus on a number of key issues. All sources agreed that boys and young men are being targeted by groups in Albania associated with organised crime, and many sources commented on these networks having links to the UK. In regards to protection, sources spoke about the continuation of an 'implementation gap' between a strong legislative and policy framework and practice in reality, with corruption as one of the most significant barriers. Sources also raised their concerns about the effectiveness of the NRM in identifying male victims, and the fact that access to assistance (including for those returned to Albania) depends on being successfully identified as a victim, or potential victim of trafficking. Related to this many sources recognised that male victims are often returned to Albania without taking into consideration the possibility that they might have been exploited, preventing their access to support, exacerbating the already significant barriers to reintegration and increasing the risks of re-trafficking. As a result, many sources indicated that like female victims of trafficking, male victims also experience significant vulnerability as a result of trafficking.

In sharing our findings Asylos and ARC hope to help fill the gap in the COI literature about the situation of Albanian boys and young men who are victims of trafficking and to contribute to a more transparent and informed debate about their situation and a greater recognition of their protection needs. However, it should be highlighted that there remain some significant gaps in information, particularly in relation to; access to and effectiveness of assistance for male victims, the situation of male victims who are returned to Albania from abroad, and barriers to reintegration and risks of re-trafficking. Recognising this Asylos and ARC call out for further research in these areas, so that the needs of this vulnerable group of young people can be better understood.

More about Asylos and ARC's 'strategic research project'...

On the back of our 2017 report on 'westernised' young men being returned to Kabul, Asylos and ARC Foundation have received a three-year grant to publish a series of strategic research reports with the aim of addressing the most critical gaps in country of origin information (COI) in UK refugee status determination (RSD) procedures. Through these reports we aim to promote fairer decision making on applications from some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants. The topic for each report will be chosen from the suggestions we receive from practitioners supporting asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in the UK, with periodical call outs being announced through legal networks and on our website. Please get in touch with us at info@asylos.eu and info@asylumresearchcentre.co.uk to learn more about the project and topic scoping.

[1] With particular thanks to The Migrant and Refugee Children's Legal Unit (MiCLU)

[2] UK Home Office, Immigration Statistics, year ending December 2018, 28 February 2019, Asylum tables vol 3

[3] See Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK, FAQs on Child Trafficking, 30 April 2019, p. 9

About the author: Maya Pritchard is UK project co-coordinator at Asylos and coordinator of the Research Standards Support Team. She has been supporting young migrants and families in the UK for 10 years.
Any views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EIN