Reclaiming the victim narrative surrounding human trafficking survivors in Albania

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Reclaiming the victim narrative surrounding human trafficking survivors in Albania

By Anxhela Bruci


We invite diverse voices to contribute to our blog. The opinions in this blog reflect the personal views of the author and not One Young World.


My family and I fled Albania after the Civil War in 1998. We left because it was unsafe.


We paid smugglers and were cramped into a van to be transported to a safer country. I remember a man terrorising a mother. Her nine-month-old baby would not stop crying. He told her to shut her baby up, or he would kill them both. I was four. I willed myself invisible. I held my breath in fear that if he heard me, he would kill me, too.


They then threw us out of the van in the middle of the mountains of the Albanian border. They took everything we had: our little money, documentation, our hope.


We walked for three days, fearing each step would be our last. The police would shoot trespassers. There were bears and wild animals too.


My life trapped in modern slavery


We took a boat to an island but lacked documentation, money, and the local language. When we arrived, we were illegals and easily exploitable. And there, my parents became trapped in modern slavery. 


We lived in a basement room with no windows. From 5:00 to midnight, I would be left alone as my parents worked upstairs in the hotel. I stopped speaking. I was traumatised. Shocked. Silenced.


Human trafficking generates $150 billion a year. It causes lifetime harm to millions of victims. With over 40% of refugees worldwide being children, the lifetime damage is huge.


Escaping modern slavery, but not its impact


My family eventually escaped that hotel, but as I grew up, I struggled with the emotional damage of living there and fleeing my country. I struggled to make sense of my past and reintegrate with my peers, and I saw how other exhausted survivors struggled, too. Their past experiences had robbed them of their energy and dreams. I saw their inability to articulate their wants and needs. I saw organisations failing to find survivors sustainable employment, with many placed in low-skilled, ill-suited jobs, and I felt inspired to help.


Challenging the victim narrative of human trafficking survivors


In 2016, I founded EmpowerFULL to support survivors of human trafficking in Albania to reclaim, define and fulfil their potential. EmpowerFULL works on self-esteem, assertiveness, and setting boundaries. We challenge the victim narrative, reclaim the individual, reestablish dreams, and then look to economically empower. We do this through training sessions and the provision of sustainable employment opportunities. 


Since 2021, we have delivered four eight-week courses and supported 40 survivors.


Transforming lives by reestablishing stolen dreams


I will never forget the eyes of Drita in her first workshop. Her posture, her empty tone, her fear of daring to dream. She was tricked and trafficked by her husband abroad and forced into prostitution. Only when her husband died did she escape and return to Albania. We helped her remember and enact her dream.


Today, she runs a small tailoring business. She's independent. She lives in a safer area, in a house free from mould. She can pay for her rent and take care of her son's needs. But most importantly, she has dreams she can vocalise and the power of this world to make them come true.


What can you do?


We all need to create sustainable employment opportunities and safe spaces in our communities for survivors of modern slavery to build and sustain lasting peace.


Find out more about EmpowerFULL by visiting the website: 

Follow EmpowerFULL on social media: @empower_full

Published on 29/02/2024