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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Warning over Albanian gangster menace
Barnie Choudhury
BBC Social Affairs Correspondent

A top government official in Albania has told the BBC organised criminal gangs from his country are specifically targeting Britain to traffick women and children for the sex trade.

It is estimated 30,000 prostitutes from Albania are working in Western Europe. Most will have been forced to work in the sex industry.

Now it seems the favoured destination for the Albanian gangsters is Britain.

The head of the country's anti-trafficking unit, Colonel Avni Jashallari, said it followed a huge clampdown last year.

The traditional route has been Albania to Italy via the Ionian and Adriatic seas. But last summer the police seized forty boats that carried the women and children, effectively shutting down these avenues.

Raids are a regular occurrence in the UK
Good news for Albania and Italy but bad news for Britain says Colonel Jashallari.

"The gangs find it easy to operate in Britain and that's why they want to operate there," he said.

"It may be easier because there may be a lack of communication and collaboration between the police in Britain and other European countries."

No one can doubt the time and effort the British government is putting into tackling this pernicious trade.

New laws mean that traffickers can be jailed for fourteen years. This is tougher than current European Union penalties.

The government is also working with other European countries to plug any gaps.

I will never be able to tell my family what really happened. I always carry the shame
'Martha', a victim of the sex trade
The Home Office Minister Beverly Hughes is quite clear about her government's message.

"It is a vile form of modern slavery," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We are absolutely determined that these criminals will not get a hold here."

The human cost of this trade can be seen in one of its victims.

Martha, not her real name, looks strong and appears to be carefree. But she hides a terrible secret.

Four years ago she was kidnapped in broad day light in the centre of Tirana, Albania's capital city.

She was bundled into a car, raped, trafficked to Italy and forced to be a prostitute. She escaped on her second attempt thanks to one of her clients who helped her.

Martha has blanked out most of what happened to her.

"They wanted the person to be obedient. At first I wanted to die then I wanted to escape.

"I will never be able to tell my family what really happened. I always carry the shame."

Big bosses

In London, the Metropolitan police are committed to fighting the gangs .

They are now in the second stage of Operation Maxim, their campaign to shut down the organised criminals.

In the first phase they arrested 46 people in connection with the smuggling of women and children into this country.

Now they are going for the big bosses.

The man who heads the fight against the traffickers, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, is not complacent.

He said: "I think if we don't deal with the problem head on and be on the front foot then there is a real danger that these gangs will resort to some very serious inter-ethnic violence.

"But not only that, we'll get parts of London which will be taken over for serious organised criminality by these people."

Criminals do not need to sign agreements, they just recruit victims and try to launder dirty money in our society
Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano
But for all their efforts there is a snag. The criminals are always one step ahead of the various police and governments.

That is because this is a multi-million pound business and the gangsters are ruthless people who will stop at nothing to make money out of human suffering.

The Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, knows his country will always be on the back foot.

"Criminals do not need to sign agreements, they just recruit victims and try to launder dirty money in our society, " he said.

"This is where we should strengthen our co-operation."

I was taken to see the police cells in Albania. The first time any media organisation has been allowed in.

They are overflowing with traffickers awaiting trial.

Albania says it wants to tackle the problem of the criminal gangs but knows it cannot do it alone.

The BBC's Barnie Choudhury
"The criminals will always find new ways to profit from human suffering"

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18 Feb 03  |  UK News
'Sex slaver' jailed for 10 years
22 Nov 02  |  England

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