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‘Live like a worm, or risk your life’: Desperate Albanians plot escape to the UK

There is very little hope in the streets of Tirana, Albania’s capital.

Some of Albania‘s most vulnerable people live in the alleyways that we are being led down.

Enkileta Ferra resides here with her extended family and children.

Two small rooms are used for cooking, eating and sleeping.


She points out an outside tap that they use to get water, and she explains why it sometimes doesn’t work.

Enkileta’s husband is currently in prison for stealing metal for money on the black marketplace. Her children go through the bins of the city every day searching for cans to sell.

It is evident that the family is living in deprivation. The despair is overwhelming.

Ms Ferra sobs, “I want my children sheltered.” “I don’t want them on the streets.”

“I want to live well like everyone else. They shouldn’t be begging in the trash bins.

More from Albania: “We are worthy”: Albanians smuggled into the UK

Man undeterred despite being deported home

Border region where gun-runners, people smugglers and others enter EU

Image Sometimes the outside tap doesn’t work

The dreams of a tattoo artist

Kledji, her 16-year old son, shows me around.

He says it takes no time – there is one bedroom that can sleep seven people.

A homemade tattoo pen, which he made from scrap he had collected, is displayed on the table.

He wants to be a tattoo artist but he also dreams of traveling abroad to countries like the UK where thousands have.

“Why would you want to travel to the UK?” I ask.

It is very different from here. There are many jobs. There is a better way of life. It’s a different way of living. It’s different here. It’s very poor here. He says that there are no jobs.

Albania is among the most impoverished countries in Europe.

According to the German government, six percent of people are malnourished and one-tenth of Albanians live below the poverty line.

This poverty is fueling migration, legal and illegal.

More Than 12,000 people came to the UK by small boats

This year, more than 12,000 Albanians crossed the Channel in small boats to England. Around 10,000 of these were men.

Arber Hajdari (executive director of Fundjave Ndryshe charity) says, “Everyday we hear that people want to move outside the country.”

One family must go for a better future. A better school is essential. One for better healthcare, one for better employment. They are paid three to four times as much in Albania than they are in Albania.

This charity provides food, supplies, and accommodation to around 17,000 families in Albania.

The staff hear often from people who pay traffickers to get to the UK.

“I believe the problem is in the youth. They have a large community outside of Albania, as well in England, and they’re trying to work together,” Mr Hajdari said.

“The men who live in England are inviting their friends to come there for the high salaries. They make a lot more there than they do here.

“It’s a huge risk, and I believe the risk is taken because they won’t be able to get the working visa to travel like other people.”

Image Arber Hjdari

PS20,000 for her to send her son to England

Maria is a Tirana-based smuggler who helped her son get to the UK. Maria meets us in a Tirana cafe.

She has not changed her name to hide her identity.

She tried to find legal avenues first but was unsuccessful.

Maria says, “I chose another route dealing with people that used to smuggle persons in dinghies.”

Someone asked me for a PS14,000 amount, then it went up to PS16,000, and now it is at PS20,000 to send my family to England. I would need to sell the house so that I could be homeless.

She couldn’t pay the fees and the trip was cancelled.

We met others who made it to the UK and they said that some smugglers offered deals for people to pay off their debts once they reach England.

Image 17,000 families are supported by the ‘Fundjave Ndryshe’ charity

Debt bondage agreements

Debt bondage agreements can be extremely risky and expose people to exploitation and extortion.

Many people believe it’s worthwhile for a better future.

Maria said, “You only live once.” You can only live once. Risk your life by living like a worm. You must put yourself in danger.

Monday saw the UK and France sign a new agreement in an effort to prevent people from crossing the Channel.

It included an increase of 40% in French beach officers, PS8m more funding, and a task force aimed at reversing recent increases in Albanian nationals as well as organised crime groups controlling these routes.

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Why are Albanians moving to the UK?

Although it sounds promising, our conversations in Albania suggest that it might not be enough.

Although a crackdown against smugglers might disrupt boats crossing the Channel, there is no hope for the homefront and the illegal migration to Albania will continue.


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