In a cafe in the Albanian capital, Tirana, we watch a shaky video of a dinghy full of 44 migrants crossing the English Channel to England.

The smugglers packed them well.

Each additional person means more money.

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

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

“I didn’t think too much.

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

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

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

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

“When we reached English waters, we warned the 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 to Albania, but this story is common.

“If I had the chance, I would go to England straight away”

Images of the trips are easy to find on social media, as are smugglers’ advertisements for discount crossings.

These are tantalizing offers for many in northeastern Albania, the most deprived corner of one of Europe’s poorest countries.

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

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Alex, whose name has been changed, is one of 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 would go straight to England,” he said.

“There’s no work here, nothing… and you’re going to work around 10 hours for £10, so that’s not life here.”

This is not an isolated case – most Albanian migrants come from this region.

In one village, the community leader told us that the former population of 2,000 had fallen 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 town of Kukës, it’s a similar story.

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

Some are there legally, some are not.

So why, I wonder, is this a dream destination?

“What I think is in the UK it’s a good life – no murders, no drugs – that’s my own thought,” said a man calling himself David.

That’s not his real name – he changed it, because he too spent time illegally in the UK.

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UK asylum spending exceeds £2bn

Rather than pay smugglers, he said he traveled to France and cut the wire around truck parks before hiding in trucks and traveling to England.

He worked for five years before being expelled.

He said he had to leave to earn money to send 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 knows[s] he is a liar. Albanians are not criminals. Albanians are good people, good culture. We all work hard,” he replied.

“But you’re breaking the law to go there. You’re going there illegally,” I said.

“Yeah, illegal. But everyone, we’re going illegal. I told you, for a good life,” he replied.

The number of Albanians arriving in small boats has increased from 800 in 2021 to over 12,000 in 2022.

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

Interior Ministry statistics show that on average 53% of Albanian asylum applications are granted, mostly to women and children.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman recently referred to “an invasion” of asylum seekers, a comment that many say has done nothing to solve the problem.

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

“And that’s what’s most worrying.

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

“When you don’t, and you avoid it, then that means you want something from what’s being said. So that means there’s a calculation behind it, that means you really talk to a number of voters who want to hear that.

“And you feed them that 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 floated the idea of ​​a joint special force with the UK to help target traffickers.

“Albania will not be London, will not be Paris, will not be Berlin”

But being Prime Minister since 2013, I wondered how much responsibility he felt for the feelings of desperation driving people abroad.

“It’s true that we hear people say it and it’s also true that now it’s a 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 have to do. We have to do everything to improve the situation here and make it better and better for everyone .

“But we also know that whatever we do, Albania won’t be London, won’t be Paris, won’t be Berlin.”

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A UK government spokesperson said: ‘We see large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK – the numbers are growing and it cannot continue.’

“With the cooperation of the Albanian government, we are taking every opportunity to intercept the work of organized crime gangs and smugglers, and accelerating the deportation of Albanians without the 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 coming.

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