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‘We are worthy people’: Albanians smuggled into UK say they are ‘excited for the future’ | UK News

Five days after being smuggled into the UK in a lorry, Albanian Iva Memaj dialled the Home Office’s freephone number to claim asylum.

“I feel very excited for my future,” she told us.

“I feel safe here.”

Iva said she ran from the lorry when it got to England, hid and was then picked up by a friend. She said the Romanian driver never got the £18,000 he was expecting.

Now she’s trying to register her arrival with the Home Office on its dedicated hotline – entering a system which she knows could take years to process her application.

But she believes it will be worth the wait, telling us life in Albania is intolerable.

I asked Iva, 31, who was a stockbroker in Albania, why she would make such a dangerous journey in the back of a lorry.

She said: “It doesn’t make sense. But when you look at Albania and the opportunities it gives to young people it will make sense.

“I just want to live in a happy environment. I just want to live in a safe environment. I want to live in a society that is well-structured and well-organised. I don’t want to live in chaos anymore.”

‘See us as worthy people’

Iva is part of what Home Secretary Suella Braverman has called “an invasion” of migrants, with the numbers coming from Albania soaring.

The vast majority travel by small boat, paying smugglers to get them across the channel – like Iva’s friend, 26-year-old Denis Arapi, who is also from Albania.

Iva and Denis, who say they are both university educated, told us they want to speak to Sky News because of the “stigma” surrounding Albanian asylum seekers.

‘”Why see migrants as a problem,” Denis said. “Start to see us as worthy people.”

The British government said Albania is a safe country and too many asylum seekers are abusing the system claiming to be the victims of modern slavery.

It has also pledged to break the “business model” of the smugglers.

Denis Arapi
Denis Arapi

How people smugglers recruit

Denis gave us a rare insight into how the smugglers persuade people to join their criminal gangs in the UK.

Denis, who worked in a private hospital as a co-ordinator in Albania, said when he crossed the channel in July – he spoke to other Albanians on the boat and half of them planned to claim asylum but get cash-in-hand work in the construction industry whilst they waited for their claims to be processed.

He claims a quarter – the younger men on the boat – said they would connect with the criminal gangs who smuggled them on arrival in the UK and disappear from the asylum system.

Denis said: “They (the smugglers) know the system is broken and they use this as a strong point to convince people to do this.

“They say ‘you’ll never get asylum papers’. They say ‘you’ll never be integrated into society’. They say ‘There are cases which have been going on for more than three years and they don’t get a work permit.’ They tell you this. They convince you that you come here and you can’t do anything else (except join the gangs).”

The UK authorities say of the more than 12,000 Albanians who’ve arrived in the UK so far this year, about 10,000 are single, adult men.

Too difficult to get a visa

Denis said it’s too difficult to get a visa to come to the UK: “Seeking asylum is the only option to be here.”

He said without money in your bank account, you can’t get a visa.

“I was expecting, when I arrived, the asylum system in Britain would evaluate the migrant.”

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Why are Albanians coming to the UK?

Iva said: “I want to do legal stuff here. I’m a decent person. I can be integrated in society.

“I chose the right way to live my life. Albanians have a bad reputation about it, but I’m one of the Albanians who is not part of the smuggling society, and I wouldn’t like to choose that road.”

‘It’s no life here’: Albanians undeterred from seeking a life in the UK | World News

In a cafe in Albania’s capital city, Tirana, we’re watching a shaky video of a dinghy filled with 44 migrants crossing the channel to England.

The smugglers have packed them in tightly.

Every extra person means more cash.

There are four or five life jackets for the whole boat.

“I was very frightened because there weren’t many life jackets,” said the 32-year-old Albanian showing us the footage which was filmed last month.

“I didn’t think too much.

“We took that risk and most people were afraid.”

He was on that boat that day after paying Kurdish traffickers €3,500 (£3,000) to get him to the UK.

After driving from Albania across Europe to Belgium and then France, he waited in a camp for a signal it was time to leave.

He is one of more than 12,000 Albanians who have illegally crossed to England in small boats this year.

“When we reached English waters, we notified English police: ‘we are in danger, can you help us?’

“They came, helped us and took us to the shore,” he said.

A few days later, he was deported back to Albania, but this story is a common one.

‘If I had the chance, I’d go right now to England’

Footage of trips are easy to find on social media, as are adverts from smugglers for cut-price crossings.

They’re tempting offers for many in northeast Albania, the most deprived corner of one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Wages are low, jobs are scarce, and people want to escape.

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Alex, whose name has been changed, is among thousands who paid smugglers to take him to the UK, where he worked illegally for years before being deported.

“If I had the chance, I’d go right now to England,” he said.

“Here doesn’t have no jobs, no nothing… and you’re going to work like 10 hours for £10, basically so it’s no life here.”

His isn’t an isolated case – most Albanian migrants come from this region.

In one village, the head of the community told us the former population of 2,000 people has dwindled to around 400 since the fall of communism.

He said some went to the city, but many escaped abroad.

‘No kills, no drugs’

In the nearby city of Kukës, it’s a similar story.

People tell us every family has two or three people living in the UK.

Some are there legally, others not.

So why, I wonder, is it such a dream destination?

“What I am thinking is in the UK is a good life – no kills, no drugs – this is my own thinking,” said a man calling himself David.

It’s not his real name – he changed it, as he too has spent time illegally in the UK.

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UK asylum spending tops £2bn

Rather than pay smugglers, he said he travelled to France and cut the wire around lorry parks before hiding in trucks and making his way across to England.

He worked for five years before being deported.

He said he had to go so he could make money to send back to his family.

‘We all work hard’

“Some people call you criminals. Are you criminals?”, I ask.

“No, no, no, no, no, absolutely no. I don’t want to hear that.

“Who say[s] that is a liar. Albanians is not criminals. Albanians is good people, good culture. We all work hard,” he replied.

“But you break the law to go. You go illegally,” I said.

“Yeah, illegal. But everybody, we go illegal. I told you, for a good life,” he replied.

The number of Albanians coming in small boats has rocketed from 800 in 2021 to more than 12,000 in 2022.

Some 10,000 of them were young men – which is around 1% of working age males, according to Eurostat.

Home Office statistics show on average 53% of Albanian asylum claims are granted, mostly to women and children.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman recently referred to “an invasion” of asylum seekers, a comment which many believe has done little to help solve the problem.

Read more:
Albanian PM still waiting for UK government apology over Suella Braverman’s ‘invasion’ comments
Migrant crisis an ‘invasion’, Suella Braverman says

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told me: “I never heard an apology, which brings me to think that instead of exaggerated expression of frustration, this was a calculated attack.

“And this is what is the most worrisome.

“When you apologise, it’s okay – it happened.

“When you don’t, and when you avoid it, then it means that you want something from what’s said. So, it means that there is a calculation behind it, it means that you really are talking to a certain number of voters that want to hear this.

“And you are feeding them with this because you need their votes. But the consequences of that can be devastating for the people, for our people in Britain, and for Britain itself.”

He said he has repeatedly pitched the idea of a joint special force with the UK to help target the traffickers.

‘Albania will not be London, will not be Paris, will not be Berlin’

But having been prime minister since 2013, I wondered how much responsibility he felt for the feelings of hopelessness that are pushing people abroad.

“It’s true that you can hear people saying so and it’s also true that now it’s a period of time when there is a lot of bad influence in general in the world because of the war, because of the crisis [after the] pandemic,” he said.

“Immediately it’s another situation because the good because, because, because…We know what we should do. We should do everything to improve the situation here and to make it better and better for everyone.

“But we know also that whatever we do, Albania will not be London, will not be Paris, will not be Berlin.”

Read more:
Number of migrants identifying as minors pushing social workers in Devon to ‘breaking point’
‘Rotten hotel food’ making asylum seekers ‘ill’
Dramatic moment family saved from Channel
Teen boy allegedly raped at hotel housing refugees

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are seeing large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK – the numbers are increasing and this cannot go on.”

“With cooperation from the government of Albania, we are taking every opportunity to intercept the work of organised criminal gangs and people smugglers, and speeding up the removal of Albanians with no right to be in the UK.”

While tens of thousands of Albanians live legally in the UK, more and more are risking their lives at sea.

Without renewed hope at home and better cooperation from abroad they will keep on coming.

Albanians not to blame for migrant crisis, country’s PM Edi Rama tells UK government | Politics News

The UK has been told to stop blaming Albanians for the migrant crisis by the country’s prime minister.

Edi Rama said the British government needs to stop using Albanian immigrants to “excuse policy failures”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has singled Albanians out several times over the past week as the numbers coming from the southern European country in small boats across the Channel has soared.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said Albanians are “abusing” the Modern Slavery Act to delay deportation attempts.

But Mr Rama has had enough and tweeted on Wednesday: “Targeting Albanians (as some shamefully did when fighting for Brexit) as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact.

“Repeating the same things and expecting different results is insane (ask Einstein!).

“70% of the 140,000 Albanians who have moved to the UK were living in Italy and Greece.

“1,200 of them are business people. Albanians in the UK work hard and pay tax. UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating v Albanians to excuse policy failures.”

He added that Albania is a NATO country and is currently negotiating its EU membership, as well as being a “safe country of origin”.

Mr Rama said when Germany had a similar problem “it tightened its own systems – the UK can and should do the same, not respond with a rhetoric of crime that ends up punishing the innocent”.

He said Albania is “not a rich country and was for a very long time a victim of empires, we never had our own”.

The PM added: “We have a duty to fight crime at home and are doing so resolutely, as cooperating closely with others too.

“Ready to work closer with UK but facts are crucial. So is mutual respect.”