Albanian drug gangs offer minibus routes from southern Europe to the UK

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

Gang members advertise the trips as “100% safe” on social media site TikTok, promoting links where migrants can sign up for trips to Britain, the Telegraph reported.

If they accept the deal, the migrants are taken to French shores and offloaded to cross-Channel smuggling gangs, often led by Iraqi Kurds. Migrants can expect to pay thousands of dollars per person for a place on a small boat to cross the 22-mile stretch of water.

A record 1,295 migrants crossed the English Channel on Monday, beating the previous daily record of more than 100. British intelligence reports of the crossings suggest that up to two-fifths of migrants are from Albania.

Monday’s total brought the number of migrants in small boats reaching Britain so far this year to more than 22,500, more than double the total seen at the same time in 2021.

Around 200 more migrants reached British shores on Tuesday, taking August arrivals to 6,500, the second highest monthly total, below the 6,878 recorded in November. If current arrival rates hold, this month is likely to top the record.

The crisis has also exacerbated strained relations between British and French immigration officials, with the French side demanding millions of euros to cover the cost of 800 agents and aerial surveillance assets which have been deployed to prevent migrants from launch boats from the beaches.

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

Smugglers of Iraqi Kurdish origin continue to offer ‘bargain’ prices on their social media adverts for Channel crossings, telling would-be migrants they have ‘never been cheaper’.

The TikTok ads offered a ride from Shkoder, a city notorious for crime in northern Albania, to Dunkirk. “Shkoder to Dunkirk daily trips. For more information DM,” said an advertisement seen by the Telegraph. “Travel every day. 100% secure,” said another.

“The boys have just started the journey to Dunkirk. Thanks boys. God help you. Hurry up. Can get DM info,” said a third, depicting a car speeding down a road.

An Albanian immigration source told the newspaper: “Albanian gangs are providing the people and associating with the Kurds, who are providing the boats and the logistics.

“Albanians come for economic reasons. There is huge poverty in Albania, and they want to come to the UK for a better life and a good job. Most end up moonlighting, especially in construction.

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

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Social media posts used by criminal smugglers promoting illegal crossings are completely unacceptable. This government is already cracking down on this misleading propaganda online with law enforcement, social media companies, and foreign governments.

She added that no one should doubt the UK government’s determination to break the smugglers’ business model and “relocate those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys back to the UK”.

Mary I. Bruner