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How the US ignores 'organized crime' at the highest levels of a new democracy.
Assassinations and intimidation.
A hotbed of human trafficking.

Kosovo's Mafia: A hotbed of human trafficking

Part III: Allegations of sexual slavery reach the highest levels of the Kosovo government.

Shame and rationalizations

For thuggish men involved in modern-day slavery, Luan and Gjon are nevertheless aware of the moral challenges of their trade. Gjon, who also works frequently in Bulgaria and, like Luan, transports girls and women into Kosovo, insisted he did not enslave women. “I never ever kept a girl against her own will,” he said. He claimed he acted as their protector. “I look after the girls that I ship. No one is allowed to do them any harm or rape them.”

But Gjon’s sense of right and wrong can become suspended by his need to make a profit. “You have to understand, when I take a package and ship it over I am responsible for the damage or loss,” he said. “If she changes her mind and wants to go back I say ‘no problem’, here’s your passport and you are free to go, but I don't intend to pay the loss from my own pocket. If she can pay her way out, or her family [can], no problem, she is free to go. Otherwise, she has to stay and obey and her passport is with me until another takes her over. It’s not I who enslave them. I am only doing shipping.”

Gjon may live in the comfort of self-justification but Luan seems genuinely ashamed of what he did.

“I wish I could rewind the tape of my life and erase that film of the past,” he said. “I was selling lives for money. That’s worse than selling drugs.”

When he spoke about his feelings he lowered his head and looked away.

“Some girls get a cut of the fee paid by clients, some don’t get anything,” he said. “It all depends on their owners. After they serve in Kosovo they are sent elsewhere because clients get tired of them and they want new flesh … . Some of them are only 16 years old.”

Five years ago Luan was arrested in Bulgaria and convicted of trafficking. Prison in Bulgaria was brutal, he said. He was released after four years. “Only depraved people feel no remorse for what they are doing,” he said. “That’s why I am not in this anymore. I feel terribly, terribly sorry for what I did.”

For now, Luan is trying to find a way to make a living in a country whose citizens have the lowest per capita annual income — $2,500 — of any country in Europe.

“I earned a lot of money,” he said, “and I spent most of it but I will find other ways to live.”

Rexhep, like Luan, has done time in Bulgarian prisons, as well as in Germany and Turkey, where he implied he was raped by other prisoners. And although he continues to traffic girls and women into Kosovo to be sex slaves, he insists he never hurts them, never gives them drugs and despises customers who abuse the women. He can, he says, empathize with them. “I was so [messed] up in Bulgaria and Turkey,” he said, “so I know what it is like to be alone and helpless.”

(GlobalPost funding for human rights reporting on stories like these is provided in part by a grant from the Galloway Family Foundation.)