Albanian trafficking gangs offering minibus trips from southern Europe to UK

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LONDON: Albanian people-smuggling gangs are organizing free minibus trips from southern Europe to the northern French coast as thousands continue to illegally cross the English Channel.

Gang members are advertising the journeys as “100 percent secure” on social media site TikTok, promoting links where migrants can sign up for journeys to Britain, the Telegraph reported.

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If they take them up on the deal, migrants are taken to the French coast and offloaded to Channel-crossing people smuggling gangs, often run by Iraqi Kurds. The migrants can expect to pay thousands of dollars per person to get a place on a small boat to cross the 22-mile stretch of water.

On Monday, a record-breaking 1,295 migrants crossed the Channel, beating the previous daily high by more than 100. British intelligence reports on the crossings suggest that as many as two-fifths of the migrants are from Albania.

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Monday’s total took the number of migrants in small boats reaching Britain so far this year past 22,500, which is more than double the total seen at the same point in 2021.

On Tuesday, approximately 200 more migrants reached British shores, bringing August’s arrivals to 6,500, the second-highest monthly total, below the 6,878 recorded in November. If current arrival rates remain, it is likely that this month will top the record.

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The crisis has also exacerbated the tense relationship between British and French immigration officials, with the French side demanding millions of euros to cover the cost of 800 officers and air surveillance assets that have been deployed to prevent migrants launching boats from the beaches.

The Hauts-de-France prefecture told the Telegraph that it was now preventing 60 percent of attempted crossings. But it warned that the rising violence and “flash mobs” of up to 200 migrants threatened to disrupt efforts to limit the gangs.

Traffickers from Iraqi Kurdish backgrounds continue to offer “bargain” prices on their social media adverts for Channel crossings, telling prospective migrants that they have “never been cheaper.”

TikTok adverts offered a drive from Shkoder, a town famed for its criminality in northern Albania, to Dunkirk. “Shkoder to Dunkirk everyday trips. For more info DM,” one advert seen by the Telegraph said. “Journey every day. 100 percent secure,” another said.

“Boys just started the journey to Dunkirk. Thanx boys. God helps you. Hurry up. Can get info DM,” a third, depicting a car speeding down a road, said.

An Albanian immigration source told the newspaper: “The Albanian gangs provide the people and link up with the Kurds, who provide the boats and the logistics.

“The Albanians are coming for economic reasons. There is huge poverty in Albania, and they want to get to the UK for a better life and good employment. Most end up working in the black market, especially in construction.

“Some of them – especially the younger boys – get involved in criminality, working in cannabis farms in order to pay off the £5,000 ($5,900) they have paid for the crossing.”

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Social media posts used by criminal people smugglers promoting illegal crossings are totally unacceptable. This government is already tackling this deceitful online propaganda with law enforcement, social media companies, and overseas governments.”

She added that no one should doubt the determination of the British government to break the people-smugglers’ business model and “relocate those who are making dangerous, unnecessary, and illegal journeys into the UK.”

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