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Rise in TikTok Ads Among Albanians Selling Smuggling Operations to UK

Border Force Officials working to escort people on boats crossing the English Channel from France to Dover, Britain, 29 June 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/STUART BROCK

There has been a sharp rise in the number of ads on TikTok targeting Albanians wishing to get into the UK across the English Channel.

Anonymous accounts advertising transfers of people from Albania to the United Kingdom have spiked on TikTok using the route called English Channel, which smugglers are believed to use, according to media reports.

After reviewing dozens of accounts on TikTok, BIRN saw two kind of adverts: one for people who want to go to the UK from France on boats and the other for people crossing to the UK from Belgium in trucks. Prices published on the site range from 2,000 to 5,000 pounds sterling.

The advertisements comes from different TikTok accounts and offer different levels of engagement. Some publish the prices while others invite the public to contact them privately.

“…to England. 4,000 pounds. With boats. Every day”, reads one of the posts.

“…to London. (It`s) 100% sure, no chances of failures. These are the best prices in the market”, says another.

Another post advertising crossings to the UK in trucks says: “Departure for England in every two days. The best prices”.

Some of the posts have more than 200 likes. Most of the accounts reviewed were created this year, some of them in July, while others were created in the beginning of the year. There are also accounts opened only a few hours ago. Most of the posts publish also dates of departures.

One of them reads: “Departures everyday, the next departure is tomorrow on 22 July. We can take families also. You come today and leave tomorrow. We are the first and the best (for boats)” adding that they give 100% guarantees for the crossing. The post has 2,706 likes and 52 comments.

A report by the British tabloid Daily Mail quoting UK military intelligence documents claims that four in 10 recent illegal migrants to Britain are from Albania.

“The explosive document – marked ‘Official Sensitive’ – shows that almost three times as many migrants arriving on the UK’s shores from France come from the Balkan country compared with anywhere else. It is the first time that an official report has exposed how the largest proportion of those making illegal crossings appear to be economic migrants abusing Britain’s generous asylum system,” the Mail said, adding that nine criminal gangs handle the crossings from France to UK. The quoted report is not published.

The report reveals that of the 2,863 migrants transported by nine separate people-smuggling gangs between June 1 and July 12, 1,075 – or 37.5 per cent – were Albanian.

Other media, such as Britain`s News Channel have reported that the smuggling gangs use social networks such as TikTok to advertise the crossings and invite people to go to the UK.

Last year, Albania’s Ministry of Justice and UK Justice Minister Chris Philip signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement in London in late July under which Albanian prisoners in the UK can be returned to Albania and banned from entering the UK again.

The agreement started to be implemented this year and is ongoing, with some of Albanian prisoners being returned to Albania.

Also in July last year, the UK and Albania signed a separate agreement regulating the removal of Albanians illegally residing in the UK.

In October 2020, BIRN published an investigation into the routes taken and money paid by Albanians to enter the UK illegally. The story identified six main routes: Calais to Dover by lorry; by lorry from the Netherlands; by lorry from Belgium; by ferry from Spain; by plane from Italy or Greece; and by plane from Italy to the UK via Dublin.

Another BIRN investigation published in June 2019 looked at how Albanian gangs in the UK recruit illegal immigrants from Albania’s remote, mountainous north, where poverty is rife.

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