Human trafficking in Albania
Albania experienced greater prosperity than it ever had during its years as a Soviet satellite state, with its national income and standard of living skyrocketing as the country industrialized and urbanized. When the communist government lost power following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, political instability, government-backed pyramid schemes and civil war caused an economic disaster. As a result, many of Albania’s desperate poor, particularly women and children, became vulnerable to human traffickers, who significantly expanded their operations.

The Situation in Contemporary Albania

The Albanian government and the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters identified 81 potential trafficking victims, with an additional five victims officially recognized in 2020. Of the 85 total victims, 58 were children and 62 were female. These figures are lower than in 2019, when there were 96 potential victims and seven confirmed victims, 80 of whom were female and 67 were minors. However, the number of victims is likely higher, and prosecutors did not convict any traffickers in 2020, whereas they did in 2019.

To compare, the state identified 134 total victims from 2005 through 2006, following the introduction of its first action plan for “trafficking in persons. Among the victims were 123 women, 77 children and 112 Albanians. In 2005, there were 49 convictions, and in 2006, there were 56. The country’s ability to identify victims has certainly improved, yet the complexity of trafficking cases has increased over the years, making convictions more difficult.

A Tier 2 source country, traffickers smuggle more people out of Albania than they bring in. The primary destinations of trafficked individuals are countries neighboring Albania such as Greece and Italy, as well as Western European countries like the United Kingdom, which had about 600 Albanian potential victims in 2015. In all, the number of Albanian victims abroad could be in the thousands. The Albanian government must fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to become a Tier 1 country, the highest and best tier. Albania has held a Tier 2 position for many years because it continues to make significant efforts to meet the Act’s standards.

The Link Between Trafficking and Poverty

Human traffickers are most likely to prey on the poor and those living in rural areas because the poor are frequently desperate for work and people living in rural areas are more isolated than city dwellers. Women, children and migrants are also traffickers’ most common prey since they tend to be easier to entice and hold captive while engaging in sexual acts with the former two is in higher demand than with adult men. Though they are not prime targets, traffickers hold men captive as well, typically forcing them to perform farm or factory work in nearby Balkan countries.

In 2016, 33.90% of the population lived on less than $5.50 per day, compared to more than 55% in 2002. Similarly, the proportion of the population living in rural areas has decreased since the expansion of trafficking in Albania, from around 60% in the 1990s and early 2000s to 37.89% in 2021. Thus, the target demographic of human traffickers is shrinking.

Examining the Targets of Traffickers

Traffickers force children to sell small items on the street and beg for money, especially during tourist season, when traffickers know tourists are more vulnerable to these practices. Their captors make these children hand over most or all of the money they earn. Traffickers also solicit minors for the purpose of sex. The traffickers tend to force children of ethnic minorities and migrant groups such as the Romani into seasonal work. Stigmas against the Romani make them vulnerable to traffickers, less identifiable as victims and less likely to receive support.

Traffickers entice poor women to work as prostitutes by posting false job ads and posing as wealthy boyfriends. These women keep little to none of the money they earn, leaving them only with the trauma of their experiences. Captive women work in nail salons, factories and as domestic servants when not performing sex work. The attitudes of men toward women are also a component in women being targets.

Transiting migrants heading to Western Europe from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are additional targets of human traffickers in Albania. The language barrier, the fact they are in an unfamiliar country and their desire to reach a wealthy nation make migrants susceptible to traffickers looking to exploit them.

The Albanian Government’s Response

The government is doing little to resolve law enforcement’s limited ability to screen and identify potential victims from migrant groups, children and sex workers. The Border and Migration Police have few interpreters, yet people speaking dozens of languages other than Albanian cross the border regularly. This language barrier exacerbates the difficulty of identifying and helping trafficking victims.

The lack of specialized experience prosecuting trafficking cases results in prosecutors convicting few criminals for human trafficking-related crimes. Instead, they often either convict the accused of a lesser crime, or the accused goes free. Furthermore, government employees are allegedly complicit in various human trafficking crimes. If true, corruption is contributing to human trafficking in Albania. The government claimed it would conduct an investigation but is not yet prosecuting anyone.

Government Investments to Reduce Trafficking

The government invested 29.3 million leks, the equivalent of $291,980, to the government-run specialized shelter for human trafficking victims. This is a massive increase to the 20.9 million leks or $208,270, it spent in 2019. While the government decided to reduce the funds it allocates to the salaries of support staff at NGO shelters, it spent more on food support. Delays in funding periodically undermined the efforts of shelters, however.

Additionally, the government moved 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets designed for victims of human trafficking in Albania. The offices of the National Employment Services offered job priority to 60 of these victims. The government has also provided vocational training to 20 officially recognized victims and offered temporary residence permits to foreign victims.

Ending Human Trafficking in Albania

After the fall of the communist government, traffickers exploited the turmoil to expand their illegal trade, enriching themselves at the expense of their victims. However, the plague of human trafficking has undergone mitigation due to increased combined efforts of the Albanian government and NGOs. To eradicate human trafficking in Albania, the government must establish more robust social programs for the poor, expand job opportunities and improve access to support services; especially for people in rural areas. The government also needs to improve its screening of targeted groups, better train police in identification and prosecutors in dealing with trafficking cases, put greater emphasis on reintegration and fund NGO-run shelters consistently.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Albania’s bunkersFrom the 1960s to the 1980s, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha fortified Albania by building more than 750,000 bunkers in anticipation of an invasion from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and NATO. In the event of an invasion, rather than relying on the services of the army, Hoxha believed that citizens should take up arms and seek refuge in the bunkers scattered across the entire country. The invasion did not occur and Albania’s bunkers, serving no purpose, faced abandonment and decay. Four decades later, Albanians have found a new purpose for them. In addition to individuals using the bunkers for personal needs, the growing tourism industry would facilitate a new use for the abandoned structures.

Albanian Tourism

From 1946 to 1992, Albania was under the rule of a strict communist regime that barred the country from international tourism. Albania’s past significantly tainted the international community’s image of the country. However, in the past two decades, the Albanian government has managed to improve the attractiveness of the country as reflected by the increase in tourists.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of tourists to Albania increased fivefold from about 1.1 million annual visitors to about 5.2 million annual visitors. The increase was stimulated by direct actions from the government such as fiscal incentives for constructing new hotels in the country as well as concrete development plans advertising the geographic location of the country and its rich cultural heritage. While in 2002 the poverty rate stood at 49.7%, the country made major strides with a poverty rate of 33.8% in 2017.

Revitalization of Albania’s Bunkers

To earn an income, many Albanians turn to tourism for work. In particular, the free-standing historic bunkers are undergoing refurbishing to serve as house tattoo studios, cafes, restaurants and even accommodations for tourists. In 2012, professors and students from the POLIS University and FH-Mainz in Germany embarked on the Bed & Bunker project to repurpose Albania’s bunkers as bed and breakfast hostels for tourists. The group began this project with the mission of preserving Albania’s heritage, succeeding in raising awareness for this cause.

Albanian-Canadian architect, Elian Stefa, has come up with further step-by-step guides and proposals for revitalizing the bunkers. In other words, people are recognizing the bunkers’ value and transformative plans have already come to fruition while other repurposing plans will soon occur.

Economic Growth

The demand for Albania’s bunkers as hotels and service amenities for tourists is growing. Bunkers, as displays of the country’s convoluted but rich history, has helped bring down the unemployment rate and stimulate economic growth in Albania. Between 2014 and 2020, the unemployment rate almost halved, decreasing from 18.06% to 11.7%. Furthermore, the GDP has risen as well with growth from about $12 billion in 2010 to roughly $15.3 billion in 2019. With more people working, Albania was able to decrease its poverty rate to 33.8% in 2017. Furthermore, since the bunkers are scattered throughout the country, the economic growth is not only limited to urban centers, with communities in the countryside also benefiting.

Using History to Serve the Present

Built in the 20th century, Albania’s bunkers were abandoned as the anticipated war they were built for did not manifest. This, however, did not discourage individuals from revitalizing Albania’s bunkers to serve the growing tourism sector. This growth had a positive effect, incentivizing individuals to ensure the preservation of the bunkers and uphold the rich Albanian heritage. Moreover, the resulting increase in revenue from tourism has created new jobs, reducing the poverty rate by 16% in 15 years.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

New Policies to Protect Women and Girls in AlbaniaSince 2018, Albanian law has changed in ways that are finally giving women and girls more protection against violence. To respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic, various NGOs and the Albanian government have adapted once again to help survivors and victims. Here is how new policies in Albania are protecting women and girls.

5 Legislation Changes to Protect Women and Girls in Albania

  1. Law on Measures Against Violence in Family Relations: In 2018, important changes were made to the Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations in Albania’s legal code. The most important changes involve how local law enforcement and courts should respond to reports of domestic violence. Police officers now must perform risk assessments after identification of the victim, report the domestic violence cases and issue preliminary protective orders. These preliminary protective orders allow the police to remove the perpetrator of violence from the residence before the court has issued an actual protection order. These new police obligations offer survivors more immediate help, instead of having to wait for the courts to react. Another important change in this law is the prohibition of the reconciliation procedure in court. This policy helps protect women and girls in Albania.
  2. Women’s Shelters During the Pandemic: On April 10, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection created a protocol that ensured women’s shelters in Albania would function undisrupted among the COVID-19 pandemic. This protocol designated the shelters for domestic violence protection as essential services, which means they must remain open and welcome any new survivors that come in. This is extremely important as the outbreak of the virus has increased the number of reports of domestic violence and violence against women in Albania. Shelters did not remain open and were not accepting women in need of help before the new protocol.
  3. NGO Services in Albania: One NGO in Albania, the Woman Forum Elbasan (WFE), is working extremely hard to adapt to the needs of women during the pandemic. WFE provides free services to survivors of violence, including social, psychological and legal help. WFE also works with police and health professionals in several municipalities of the Elbasan area of Albania to improve the help given to women by local institutions. A grant from the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence against Women funds WFE. During the pandemic, WFE performed almost 300 virtual counseling sessions to survivors in just March and April. Virtual counseling and hotlines are one way that WFE adapted to COVID-19 restrictions, they also use social media to raise awareness about safety measures and protective equipment needed. WFE also operates emergency shelters for victims of violence that is kept clean and disinfected for anyone needing their services.
  4. Institutional Monitoring: Since 2018, the Monitoring Network Against Gender-Based Violence is lobbying, advocating and monitoring the legal and policy framework on ending violence against women in Albania. Established by UN Women, this network is now made up of 48 different organizations. Since being established, they have given numerous recommendations for changes to the Law on Social Housing, Law on Free Legal Aid and the Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations. These institutions play a crucial role in acting as a voice for Albanian women to the government, police and court systems. The Monitoring Network works to protect and help the situation of women, which is not often on the forefront of the political or social agenda.
  5. Improved Data on Violence against Women: Albania’s latest survey on violence against women and girls, taken in 2018, engaged with service-providers, local governments and civil society organizations to create the most accurate dataset possible. This was the first time widespread consultations on the survey took place. To share the results of the survey, government ministries, municipalities, police forces and other organizations attended workshops on how to understand and use the new information. These workshops helped raise awareness of this significant issue. This new survey is especially important because most police and government surveys about violence against women produced a much lower amount of instances. The survey has also been used as evidence to promote new policies and laws on protecting women in Albania.

Although women and girls in Albania are still experiencing and at risk of facing domestic violence, these recent changes have given more resources to survivors and victims. The Albanian legal code and policies have also shifted to protect more women and girls in Albania, from written laws to the new socio-economic environment forced by COVID-19.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr 

Progress for Maternal and Child Health Outcomes in Albania Located in the Balkan peninsula and nestled between the Adriatic Sea and Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece is the small country of Albania. Following World War II, the nation was a communist state until its transition to democracy succeeding the 1992 presidential election. The transition from a communist state to a democratic republic disrupted economic growth and the ways of life for many Albanian people. The country’s long-standing policy of isolationism contributed to Albania’s slow development, enduring poverty and lack of economic and political stability.

The Albanian Refugee Crisis

In the late 1990s, Albania became host to hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum from violence and political unrest in the neighboring country of Kosovo. The rapid influx of refugees resulted in many Albanian regions becoming overcrowded and under-resourced. The country, already struggling to support its own people, barely coped with the increasingly dire refugee situation. During this time, Albania was recognized as one of the poorest countries in Europe. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line was estimated to be between 30% and 50%. Crime rates were high and social unrest pervaded.

Albania applied for membership in the European Union in 2009 and joined NATO later that same year. In response, the European Union invested $11 million dollars in emergency aid for Albanians, refugees from Kosovo and surrounding countries. Organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Children’s Fund further worked to improve conditions for all people affected by the crisis.

The effects of political upheavals and the refugee crisis impacted many aspects of life for Albanians. Specifically affected were Albania’s healthcare system and the state of maternal and child health in Albania.

Healthcare in Albania

Historically, Albanians have had limited access to healthcare and health services. Prior to World War II, Albania had few foreign-trained physicians and a small number of hospitals and health clinics based predominantly in urban regions. When the country shifted to a communist state, the Soviet model of health was adapted. Health institutions and hospitals were erected but the quality of medical care was poor.

Investments in the health sector decreased in the 1970s. Recurring political upheavals throughout the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the destruction of numerous healthcare facilities and the loss of valuable medical equipment. Immunization programs halted and the quality of basic sanitation services decreased drastically in rural and urban areas of Albania.

Maternal and Child Health in Albania

As a result of inadequate health services, health outcomes are poor in Albania. Mortality rates for communicable, infectious diseases are high. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the region. Albania has also faced ongoing outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Health outcomes for women and children in Albania are similarly poor. Albania’s maternal and infant mortality rates are high. Analysis of mortality trends in Albania between 1989 and 1993 revealed that the infant mortality rate decreased from 9.8% in 1970 to 2.8% in 1990. Infant mortality rates subsequently began to rise steadily following the 1992 transition to democracy.

In rural areas, infant mortality rates are twice as high as those in urban regions of the country. Maternal mortality rates in Albania are four times as high as those in other parts of Europe as a result of poor prenatal care and abortion-related complications. Family planning practices are uncommon, as well as forms of birth control alternative to abortion.

Addressing the Issue

However, Albania has shown significant progress in improving its healthcare system as well as the state of maternal and child health outcomes. Albania’s government has shown initiative in restructuring the existing healthcare system to focus on addressing the leading causes of death and disease. The country has also adopted a progressive approach to improving the standards for the protection of women and children’s right to healthcare.

Albania has focused on increasing the accessibility and quality of neonatal and pediatric primary health care in an effort to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. The nation has implemented additional staffing within women’s and children’s counseling centers and health centers. Albania’s government has partnered with the Ministry of Health to create innovative national health policies that address the needs of the healthcare system, health professionals and Albania’s population. Additional funding and resources have also been allocated to the nation’s health sector.

Further action taken by the Albanian government to improve the state of maternal and child health in Albania includes:

  • Albania signed and ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty outlining the cultural and health rights of children.
  • Albania has begun decentralizing the healthcare system and is ensuring that each village has access to updated and equipped health centers.
  • Albania’s government has adopted a new system of family planning that has improved women’s access to necessary reproductive services.
  • Albania implemented the National Action Plan for Children that increases access to essential health care for mothers and children, works to prevent malnutrition and weight-related disorders, stems the spread of preventable infectious diseases and reduces infection rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Moving Forward Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic further puts pressure on Albania’s government and budget to continue ongoing efforts to improve the nation’s healthcare system. International partners as well as Albania’s government continue to work to improve the country’s healthcare system and advocate for the promotion of the rights of women and children. In doing so, the health outcomes of Albanian women and children will progress and the quality of life for all of Albania’s population will better in the years to come.

– Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr


Hunger and starvation are a harsh reality for the Albanian people. The country, for many years, has had a significant portion of the population who are unable to feed themselves and their families. According to the Global Hunger Index, Albania is ranked 28th out of 117 countries struggling with hunger. The Global Hunger Index also gives Albania an overall score of seven. While a score of seven is not incredibly low, according to the Global Hunger Index, it could still be improved. In order to address the impacts of hunger in the country, multiple Albanian organizations are providing support to help their people. Here are three organizations working to positively impact hunger in Albania.

3 Organizations Making a Difference

  1. Nehemiah Gateway is working to reduce hunger in Albania. Nehemiah Gateway originally started in Albania but has expanded to help people in other countries as well. The organization provides not only food parcels, but also medical supplies and social care to people in need in Albania. It is currently running a fundraiser guided toward providing the necessary supplies to starving people in Albania. As of July 29, 2020, the organization has received more than $7,800 in donations out of a $9,000 goal. Nehemia Gateway is still accepting fundraiser donations.
  2. The Children’s Human Rights Center of Albania is another organization pursuing an end to hunger in Albania, especially with respect to youth in the country. Along with addressing hunger, the organization also represents the rights of children in other ways. The organization seeks to make sure the youth of Albania is educated, protected and participates politically within the country. In April of this year, The Children’s Human Rights Center of Albania made news when it made a plea to the European Commission, asking for relief efforts to help 100,000 children who are at risk of starvation. While the request for help has not yet been answered, the human rights center is still committed to fighting for the well being of Albania’s youth.
  3. Food Bank Albania is another organization that has been making extremely focused efforts to help those at risk of hunger. The food bank is based in Albania and its primary concern is making sure the people of the country are fed no matter the circumstances. Food Bank Albania gave an update on its activities during the recent earthquakes as well as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The organization said that, since November of 2019, it has been able to provide people in need in Albania with about 223,000 kg of food. This is equivalent to about 500,000 meals. The organization is also confident that it can provide about 30 to 40 tons of fresh produce to people in need throughout the summer.

Hunger in Albania continues to be a major concern. The country is ranked 28th out of 117 countries struggling with hunger. As a result, a large portion of the population is still in need of help and further support. However, these three Albanian organizations have been resourceful in fighting to make sure that their people remain fed and provided for.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Albania
After the fall of its communist government in 1991, significant political, social and economic challenges confronted Albania. Albania is a country that lies on the Mediterranean Sea and borders Greece. The fall of the Communist Party left the country with high levels of extreme poverty that it needed to address quickly. As the government has transitioned to a constitutional republic and the centrally-planned economy has shifted to an open-market structure, it has also implemented considerable economic plans and reforms. These reforms partially alleviated the severity of the poverty much of the population faced before 1992, but poverty in Albania continued to be a challenge as the country moved forward.

Understanding Poverty in Albania

  • Privatization and a new legal framework were some of the key reforms the government implemented in 1992 that helped to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and strengthen the economy. The privatization of agriculture, which employs 40% of the population, particularly helped alleviate poverty in the rural areas where it is most prevalent. The new legal framework lowered poverty in urban areas by encouraging the private sector activity necessary to an open-market economy.
  • Consistent low-income levels and low administrative capacity are limitations to the success of economic reforms in Albania. The low-income population is particularly susceptible to price fluctuations and unemployment. For this reason, inflation in 1996 and 1997 caused a downturn in the economic growth the country had experienced earlier.
  • Fluctuations in the global economy impact the level of poverty. Remittances – money that Albanians working mostly in Greece and Italy sent back to the country – are a significant component of economic growth. After the 2008 financial crisis, remittances decreased from 15% of the GDP to 5.8% by 2015. Simultaneously, the poverty level in Albania increased from 35.8% in 2008 to 38% in 2017. This definition is the percentage of the population living on less than $5.50 per day, the poverty threshold for upper-middle-income countries. The World Bank classifies Albania as an upper-middle-income country.
  • Low-skill occupations, including agriculture, require lower levels of education and offer little job security yet employ the majority of the working population living in poverty. Those workers then have limited skills relevant to other types of higher-income labor and have constrained potential for social mobility.

Efforts to Alleviate Poverty in Albania

  • Recent growth in labor-intensive sectors has increased the number of potentially higher income jobs available to Albanians and raised the GDP. Available jobs in textiles, tourism, trade and administrative services have been on the rise since 2013 and contribute to greater economic stability. Tourism, for instance, is one of the fastest-growing industries in Albania. In 2019, the number of foreign visitors increased by 8.1% in comparison to 2018.
  • International investments and donations have grown in recent years. The government has attracted international interest by taking the initiative to encourage economic growth through improving roads and rail networks and introducing plans of economic and legislative reform. These reforms primarily focus on strengthening tax collection and increasing public wages and pensions. They have been successful thus far and the World Bank estimates that the poverty rate has lowered to 37% as of April 2020.
  • Public debt remains high and a potentially significant barrier to the constant growth necessary to sustain Albania’s economy and keep the poverty level steadily decreasing. Although the debt requires a strong fiscal policy response by the government to avoid economic shocks, it has shown a promising 3% decline rate from 2015 to 2018.

Albania’s Partnership with International Organizations

Although not yet a member, Albania received E.U. candidacy status in June 2014 and officially adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Furthermore, Albania’s government released its National Strategy for Development and (European) Integration 2015-2020 in 2016. It also partnered with the U.N. in Albania to release the Programme of Cooperation for Sustainable Development 2017-2021, a comprehensive plan for sustainable development and alleviation of poverty.

The U.N.’s work in alleviating poverty in Albania and its partnership with Albania’s government has proven to be successful as it has helped achieve sustainable economic development through various reforms. The poverty rate in Albania has shown steady signs of decrease since its peak in 2014. The international community is also supporting the government’s steps to combat poverty in Albania. After a devastating earthquake in November 2019 hindered ongoing efforts of infrastructure improvement and other reforms, Albania’s government received €1 billion in assistance from several international donors during a conference in February 2020.

The U.N. in Albania is just one of the organizations working to fight poverty in Albania through collaboration with the government and other civil society and private sector organizations. Among its goals are Albania’s integration into the E.U. and the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which should stabilize the country’s economy and ultimately lower the poverty rate.

Looking to the Future

The onset of COVID-19 could strain the government’s resources and ability to continue with these reforms to alleviate poverty in the immediate future. However, the U.N.’s work in Albania, support from international donors and stronger commitments from the government to lower the poverty rate point to an optimistic future of long-term development. This should subsequently lead to economic growth and a steady decrease in the rate of poverty.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Albania
In the early hours of November 26, 2019, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled Tirana, the capital city of Albania. Moments later, a second powerful earthquake hit near the coastal city of Durres with strong aftershocks continuing for weeks. Buildings collapsed on people sleeping in bed, who were unable to wake in time to seek safety. As soon as it was safe, rescue crews began to search for survivors in the rubble. In addition to taking lives, this destructive earthquake also caused homelessness in Albania to skyrocket.

The disaster left 51 people dead and more than 900 people hospitalized with injuries. The earthquake was the largest Albania has seen in 30 years and caused significant damage to apartment buildings and houses. With a shortage of recovery funding and complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are facing homelessness in Albania for the first time. These citizens are living in dire need of foreign aid to help them rebuild their homes and communities.

Mass Housing Lost in the Earthquake

Homelessness in Albania remains a significant issue nine months after the earthquake and strong aftershocks rocked the country in late 2019. Albania has one of the lowest GDPs in Europe and is located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea, bordering on Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Greece. The districts near the epicenter, Tirana, Durres and Lezhë, suffered the greatest damage with 32,000 Albanians losing their homes, and nearly 5,080 buildings destroyed or slated for demolition after an assessment deemed them uninhabitable. Another 83,745 buildings were severely damaged.

Immediately after the earthquake, camps were set up to shelter homeless Albanians who slept in tents and temporary shelters created by the Albanian Red Cross (ARC) with the support of aid groups like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and other U.N. agencies. The damages from the earthquake have affected around 10% of Albania’s 2.9 million citizens, and the poverty rate increased by 2.3% with around 220,000 people impacted by the loss of buildings and infrastructure.

Falling Short on Funding for the Homeless

Despite a worldwide outpouring of support for the small European nation, homelessness in Albania caused by the earthquake remains a major issue. According to a situation report published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in June 2020, the funding necessary to help Albanians recover from the earthquake is over five million U.S. dollars, but currently, the humanitarian organizations have raised just three million from a range of foreign aid donors. The American Red Cross and U.S. private donors gave close to $21,000 for relief efforts, and the U.S. Embassy in Albania states that it contributed to funding via on-the-ground technical support and through USAID funds provided to UNICEF.

Initially, families were accommodated in shelters and hotels, but for those who wished to stay near their destroyed homes, particularly in more rural areas, many began living in tent camps. As Albania headed into winter, the ARC focused on providing materials for these homeless earthquake victims to stay warm and survive the winter in tents and shelters with sleeping bags, blankets and kitchen kits. Later, the plan was to shift focus to creating permanent housing for them. However, as of June, some 17,000 people remain in temporary housing and shelters. A large group of people in Durres protested on May 26, marking six months after the earthquake, and asked authorities for clarity on the timeline of the reconstruction process. Their lives remain on hold as they wait for permanent housing and aid.

Housing Issues Compounded by COVID-19 Crisis

Albanians who lost their homes in the disaster faced a second crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020, compounding their already difficult circumstances. In early March, Albania confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in the country, and as a result, aid efforts were interrupted as airports closed and movement was temporarily halted. Funding to help the issue of homelessness in Albania has been redirected to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, further complicating things for the thousands of people struggling to rebuild their lives after the earthquake.

To date, Albania has more than 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and still lacks adequate testing infrastructure but has reopened borders, leaving those most vulnerable in the population, namely the homeless, at greater risk. Quarantine rules ask people to stay in their homes, but for those in Albania living in temporary housing and tents, this critical safety measure can be difficult. While USAID has committed to investing $2.4 million for the COVID-19 crisis, it is integral that the issue of homelessness in Albania caused by the earthquake receives equal attention and financial support to stop the spread of the virus and help victims recover from the damage of the earthquake.

Diana Bauza
Photo: Wikimedia

Healthcare in Albania
Albania became highly secluded following Enver Hoxha’s communist reign from 1908-1985. Medical staff would often make house calls for patients that were severely ill because there was only one hospital per city. The paucity of the country’s healthcare offset the highly skilled and thoroughly trained professors at the Mother of Teresa School of Medicine. This school emerged in 1959 and was the first school of medicine in Tirana. The doctors had the skill, but they lacked the proper tools to go about daily operations. The lack of resources during this time had a damaging effect on healthcare in Albania.

The Concerns

While professors who were to teach at the Mother of Teresa School of Medicine received training in other European countries, Albania still gave little to no personal freedom regarding matters of end-of-life to its patients. Documentations have determined that the nutrition of Albania became scarce under Hoxha’s rule. In fact, infant mortality rates supposedly increased; they are currently at 10.83 per 1,000 births (9.49 for females per 1,000 and 12.08 for males per 1,000). While the population began to dwindle, the communist regime led a movement in which women received the promise of a cow in addition to the title of “heroic mother” if they had six or more children.

Birthing units would hold five to seven pregnant patients per room: no husbands or other family members could fit or enter. Albania currently meets compliance with global labor standards regarding maternity protection. Mothers in the country can enjoy the benefits of a full maternity leave duration, full amounts of maternity leave cash benefits and breastfeeding breaks with breastfeeding facilities. The country also established that the government was the source of the cash benefits and not individual employers.

Lack of Freedom

Not only could “heroic mothers” not have their husbands or other family members around as they gave birth, but Albanians are still unable to deny poor medical treatment from hospital doctors and medical staff. The coverage for healthcare in Albania for citizens during communism mimicked the Soviet-type Semashko model and was free of charge. The Albanian government owned and directed the healthcare plan.

Today a combination of healthcare contributions from the state, employees and employers pay for Albanian public healthcare spending. In fact, the employer and employee each contribute 3.4% with employees’ portion coming from their salaries. The state subsidizes and pays for the rest. The fact that Albanian healthcare does not address the withdrawal of treatment gives Albanians little power to make healthcare decisions.

The WHO

Despite Albanians’ lack of healthcare freedom, the country is doing much to raise the quality of healthcare in Albania. The World Health Organization (WHO) mentioned the 2013-2022 Albanian Plan for Mental Health Services Development. The WHO highlighted the plan to protect the rights of individuals with special needs and mental health problems. The 11th National Report on the Implementation of the European Social Charter for Albania stated that as a part of its 2013-2022 plan, it built nine community mental health centers and 13 supported homes.

The idea behind supported homes is to deinstitutionalize psychiatric wards with high populations and transition these patients back into society. The method before this was to simply hospitalize mentally ill citizens. Albania is also home to Different and Equal, an NGO that assists victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Moving Forward

Albania is not only developing mental health centers or supported homes; the government has also promised to revolutionize and increase financial output towards the health sector. The government believes that the need for medical devices will increase. Increased spending will lead to new technology in hospitals. It also maintains the idea that increased spending on the health of its country will cause investments in public hospitals to rise. According to the Albanian Ministry of Health (MoH), public healthcare spending in 2018 reached 48.6 billion Leke ($450 million). Expectations determine that more recent spending statistics should be higher than reports state.

In 2018, the WHO reported that during visits, its team noticed that the healthcare buildings were old but that they had received good maintenance. Also, the MoH developed a general medical check-up for everyone between the ages of 40-65 in 2016. The idea behind this check-up was that it would give individuals the motivation to visit their family physician. Albanians enjoyed this innovative solution to healthcare advocacy for free.

The Albanian government has chosen a route of seclusion in the past. Communism allowed citizens to have free healthcare but at the cost of the freedom to choose the right health options for themselves. The citizens of Albania are now helping to fund their own healthcare. Nurturing mothers have become a larger focus, which will hopefully lower the infant mortality rate. Albania is also addressing mental illness and future government healthcare spending is set to increase.

DeAndre’ Robinson
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Girls’ Education in Albania
Albania is a small country located in southeastern Europe neighboring Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. The country has endured many socioeconomic hardships since the fall of communism in 1991 but is now on the rise from one of the poorest countries in Europe to a middle-income country. As in most countries, education is an integral part of social, cultural and economic development. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Albania.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Albania

  1. Most girls attend primary and secondary schools. Albania considers the first nine years of school mandatory, which it calls primary education, although most students complete three additional years of school which are part of secondary education. According to the World Bank, the female net enrollment ratio for girls of primary school age (ages 6-15) was 94 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, 89 percent of females ages 15-18 enrolled in secondary schooling in 2018. However, these percentages of girls in the Albanian school system are still very good, as nearly the entire population of eligible girls attended some type of schooling.
  2. A little over half of the population of young adult women attend tertiary schools. Tertiary schooling is typically at universities and students aged 18 and older can study to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s or a Ph.D. The gross enrollment rate in 2018 was 68 percent for women in tertiary education, up from 39 percent in 2009. Even though the gross enrollment rate in 2018 for tertiary schooling is not as high as the net enrollment rates for additional schooling, these numbers show that girls’ education in Albania is rising.
  3. There are more girls receiving an education than boys. In the same study that the World Bank conducted, only 90 percent of boys of primary school age enrolled in school, compared to 94 percent of females in 2013. As for secondary schools, the male net enrollment rate stood at 84 percent compared to 89 percent for females in 2018. Thankfully, boys’ education and girls’ education in Albania have a very small gap between them. However, since 2009, there has been a significant gap between the gross enrollment rates in tertiary schools by gender. The most recent data has the male enrollment rate in tertiary education at 43 percent, a 25 percent difference between genders.
  4. Unemployment for women could impact tertiary education enrollment. Women’s participation in the labor force has dropped drastically from 78 percent in 1989 to 46 percent in 2005, likely due to the collapse of communism and social upheaval in 1991. This number did not reach 50 percent until 2013 and has been gradually rising since then. For decades, Albania has held onto strong patriarchal values that place women outside of the labor market. Because of these values, “women of reproductive age are discriminated against in the market because they may start a family, and thus have fewer opportunities for retraining and qualification.” If women experience exclusion from employment and have to operate in the domestic sphere, they may not see the value of an education, thereby contributing to lower rates of enrollment beyond compulsory schooling.
  5. Women earn less than men on average. In addition to hiring difficulties, women also earn 10.5 percent less than their male counterparts. The good news is that Albania has a lower gender wage gap than most of the European Union. The E.U.’s gender wage gap average was 16.2 percent in 2016. However, the gender wage gap could exist due to women’s lack of participation in the labor market, or vice versa. This could also be related to the rising net enrollment rate for girls’ education in Albania, specifically in tertiary schooling.
  6. Similarly, there is a low representation of Albanian women in decision making. In 2007, women occupied only 7 percent of seats in Albania’s parliament, with only nine women total in senior-level positions and 2 percent of local government leaders women. In 2017, the number of seats that women occupied in parliament rose to 21.4 percent. Having years of low representation of women in the Albanian government has allowed for the gender-based discrimination in education and employment to run rampant throughout the country. With fewer women involved in decision making, girls have fewer protections, making something as necessary as education difficult to obtain.
  7. There are low government expenditures on education. Unfortunately, Albania spent only 3.95 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education in 2016, according to UNESCO. A government undermines the value of an education when it invests so little in it.
  8. However, the Albanian government is helping girls in other ways. The Albanian government has spent this past decade focusing on undoing the decades of gender inequality through the law, specifically the Law on Reproductive Health, Measures on Domestic Violence and laws on Prevention and Elimination of Organized Crime and Trafficking Through Preemptive Measures on Personal Assets. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Albania publicly announced to the United Nations the national government’s commitment to gender equality. Following this, the national government adopted the Gender Equality and Action Plan 2016–2020 with the aim to consolidate efforts by all institutions to advance gender equality. The government used funds to benefit women’s enterprises and support services for survivors of domestic violence.
  9. Other organizations have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of women in Albania. The Mary Ward Loreto Foundation is an organization creating programs to empower adolescent girls and protect them from domestic violence and trafficking on the ground in rural communities in Albania. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with the Albanian national government and civil society to create programs to end gender-based discrimination, like the Gender Equality and Gender-Based Violence Programme in 2015. UNICEF has partnered with Albania’s Ministry of Education to implement new systems to improve access to education for children throughout the country. In November 2019, the World Bank loaned Albania $10 million to improve women’s access to economic opportunity.
  10. Female education is on the rise in Albania. Female enrollment has been rising since 2009 by roughly 1 to 2 percent every year. The total net enrollment rate is at 96 percent, so, fortunately, the majority of Albania’s children have access to public education. Despite having a lower percentage of girls attending primary and secondary school, over half of the women aged 18-22 enrolled in tertiary education at 67.58 percent in 2018. The girls who enrolled in education continue on to undergraduate and graduate studies.

Albania is a country rich in history. Unfortunately, much of that history has allowed gender-based discrimination to take root, even affecting girls’ education in Albania. Because of its changing political and social climate, patriarchal beliefs and a lack of protection for women have allowed the country to leave them behind. The good news is that women are catching up. Albania has worked tirelessly this past decade to undo gender inequality through laws, civil society and partnerships with global organizations to provide women the resources they need to succeed, starting with a promise of an education.

– Emily Young
Photo: Unsplash