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Awareness raising: The key to sustainable resilience building

Albanians, especially the youth, are one of the most trafficked populations in Europe. Despite only having a population of 2.8 million, Albanian victims of exploitation are found in almost every country in Europe; the UK alone confirmed 1274 victims in 2017-18. These are the lucky ones who made it through the complicated government system. Countless more in the UK and all over Europe will never be recorded.

Youth unemployment hovers around 23%, meaning around a quarter of people between 16 and 24 are neither in education or work. Traffickers offering high salary ‘jobs’ in Europe easily prey on those who are concerned about their job prospects. But it is not just those out of work who are vulnerable; university students are increasingly being trafficked through the ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partying’ models. In these models, personal relationships, formed when students are first living away from home, are used to manipulate people into exploitation.

Combatting youth exploitation sustainably is a difficult task. Providing employment and access to education are important; but this community must also be sensitised to the traffickers' methods as well as being empowered to be part of the solution. The impact of this sensitisation and empowerment is hard to measure, but that should not deter the anti-slavery community from investing in it as it is one of the key ways to effectively build community resilience.

With this in mind, Arise funded Different and Equal (D&E), and Albanian NGO, to conduct a one year pilot project to increase the resilience of Albanian youth in three vulnerable districts: Shkodër, Podagrec and Gjirokaster. These groups worked as peer-to-peer activists, using their own skills to educate their own communities on common trafficking narratives. With the support of D&E, these groups reached 1440 of their peers through seminars, youth group activities and exhibitions. They focused on the common tactics of traffickers, the realities of the jobs that are offered, as well as giving practical tools for their peers to use if they, or someone they knew, were in danger.

Awareness raising efforts allow the vulnerable communities to recognise and challenge the common narratives of traffickers. Traffickers rely on the low awareness surrounding their crime in their target communities; it is only once someone is aware that they can begin to question.

This is where peer-to-peer activism comes into its own; youth-led, and therefore youth-owned, movements are powerful education tools for challenging narratives and empowering those individuals most at risk to spot the key signs. This kind of work is often hard to quantify, but that should not put the international community off funding it. Indeed, this one year pilot project saw 14 cases of trafficking reported to national authorities by those already involved in the youth group. As the message continues to be spread throughout these peer networks there will be more cases reported; but there should, more importantly, be fewer cases to report in the first place. The reduction in those suffering should be the goal of the anti-slavery movement, even if it might be complicated to measure or quantify. The intentional community continues to limit awareness raising efforts at its peril.

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