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O n a bright autumn day in September , the body of a woman was hauled from the Lunel canal, a stretch of water that crosses a flat, marshy area of Montpellier. French police at first assumed she had drowned. There were no signs of injury, but her nakedness was a cause for concern. The body was that of Silvana Beqiraj, an Albanian.
A divorced mother of two, she had migrated to France four years earlier, leaving her young children with her parents. Elmazi identified the body. A murder investigation was opened in France soon after it was discovered that Silvana had been involved in prostitution in Montpellier, but the family still have no idea what happened to her. The exact cause of death has never been established by police or forensic pathologists, and to date no one has been arrested or charged.
Certainly, there was no sign of affluence in the family home. Life in the village had not been easy for Silvana. As with many women from traditional Albanian communities, she entered an arranged marriage when she was After five years, Silvana filed for divorce and moved back to the family home with her children. According to a local journalist, Laureta Rroshi, Silvana had given the money to a trafficking gang to organise her transport and set her up in prostitution in France.
Silvana subsequently changed her mind and asked for the money back. It is impossible to tell exactly why Silvana agreed to go to France. But what is known about the trafficking of women from rural Albania is that they are promised a better life, then end up being debt-bonded as a result of the extortionate costs for the journey and subsequent accommodation imposed by traffickers. Their families back home receive threats if they do not comply.
In the late s, the Albanian government began to accept that trafficking in women was a serious problem. Experts were brought in to advise on how to identify victims and prosecute perpetrators. Despite such efforts, and the millions of dollars poured into anti-trafficking law enforcement, it remains a serious problem in the Balkan region in general and Albania in particular. National Crime Agency statistics show that, in the third quarter of , the majority of girls and women trafficked into the UK were from Albania.