Six months ago, Bledi, eight years old, had no name, no identity. Today he does. Bled’s parents migrated to the neighboring Greece ,and Bled was born there. Later, his parents brought him to Albania and left him with his old grandparents when he was a newborn, but as with many Albanian immigrants from Greece, they never registered him with Albanian state registry offices.
At the age of five, he was diagnosed with autism and demonstrated aggressive behavior that put his own life and those near him in danger. His grandparents, who could not afford private medical services, sought support for Bled but it was denied to him; because he was not registered at the Civil Registry Office, he could not benefit from public health and social services.
One day his grandparents learned about a civil society organization that provided free legal aid to vulnerable populations.
“When we first heard about these free legal aid services, we found it hard to believe that finally we may have some hope for our grandson. ”Bled’s grandfather Qazim says.
UNDP’s “Access to Justice Survey” in 2017 shows that nearly half of those surveyed have faced legal problems during the last five years. This is particularly true for members of disadvantaged groups including the poor, Roma, LGBTI persons, survivors of domestic violence, among others.
The Children's Human Rights Centre of Albania (CRCA), an NGO supported by UNDP, assessed Bled’s case, gathering relevant information about his social and family situation and built a case for Bled’s civil registration.
“We looked carefully into Bled’s case. We considered his health situation, psychological and legal status, and in so doing we determined the required future steps. When children like Bled lack registration documents, it makes it impossible for them to benefit from health and psycho-social care services.” explains Altin Hazizaj, Executive Director of CRCA.
So far, four supported UNDP Free Legal Aid centers run in partnership with civil society organizations across Albania. These centers provide free primary and secondary legal aid to an average of 200 cases per month, including divorce and child custody cases, pension and social benefit-related cases, protection orders and issues related to survivors of domestic violence.
The success of such services supported by UNDP has also paved the way for the Parliament of Albania to adopt a new law for improving the access to free legal aid services especially for vulnerable populations across the country.
To successfully resolve Bled’s case, the CRCA organized multidisciplinary meetings with mental health professionals, legal professionals, state social care and child protection officials. This required liaising with several central institutions including the Ministry of Interior, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europe, the Child Protection Agency and the Children's Rights, all of which were necessary to establish a precedent for similar cases of unregistered Albanian children in neighboring countries.
“After a period of two months, Bled was registered at the civil registry office. He received his birth certificate, which opened the doors for other necessary services for his health,” says Qazim.
Today Bled benefits from individual and group therapy, mental and physical health services and free medication. Though he faces many challenges, he now has a solid foundation he can build on.