London, June 3, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
The rescue of 18 Albanian migrants, including two children, off the Kent coast in the English Channel at the end of May has alerted the British authorities and public to a migrants’ smuggling route which has by and large gone unnoticed.
Suddenly stories of shabby vessels reaching the southern English coast filled with migrants started appearing in the British media and locals in small seaside villages, in areas away from the big ports, started being interviewed about “distant voices of people coming ashore” as far back as a year ago.
There were even reports and pictures of presumed smugglers transporting the vessels used to bring people into the UK through the frequently choppy English Channel waters.
This unknown smuggling route, not so far away from Calais’ ‘jungle’ and thousands of kilometres away from the Mediterranean Sea has been described as even riskier that the Aegean crossing from Turkey to Greece and the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy, where hundreds of people have lost their lives over the past years.
What it notable about these particular irregular migrants is that they appear to mainly be Albanian nationals, at least in the latest cases reported.
According to the humanitarian organisation ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’, a group of around 100 Albanians have set up camp literally on a cliff on the northern coast of France, in Dieppe, in the hope of being able to board a Britain-bound ferry.
Latest statistics have also revealed that the UK authorities received nearly 1,982 asylum application by Albanian nationals over the course of 2015, with only 366 granted. Since 2013 there has been a steep rise in applications by Albanians. This fact, along with the irregular attempts to enter the UK soil, has led to Brexit supporters including in their anti-migration arguments the prospect of Albania entering the EU and its citizens acquiring the right to freely come to Britain.
Albanian-owned shops have been springing up in north London and other areas in quick succession over the last three years or so, in a sign that the community is becoming more populous and more established.
However, fears of Albanians being smuggled into the UK are rising, not least after another report on slavery in the UK that came out on 31st May stating that “cases have been uncovered in diverse locations… (such as) Albanian women and girls sexually exploited in the London sex industry, and hundreds of men working low or semi-skilled jobs trapped in debt bondage.” Most victims identified by police came from Albania, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia.