Parents in Albania are trafficking their teenage sons to the UK to join organised crime gangs that control large tranches of Britain’s cocaine market, an investigation by The Telegraph has found.
Increasing numbers of young Albanians are being illegally smuggled into the UK with the promise of earning thousands of pounds from selling and running drugs for the gangs.
Court records show teenage Albanians who mostly entered the UK hidden in lorries have been prosecuted in towns across the country, from Selkirk to Bath, Dewsbury to Shrewsbury and London to Glasgow after being caught with drugs worth as much as £200,000.
According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), Albania is the biggest single foreign source of people trafficking into the UK with 947 cases referred to it in 2018, a more than 50 per cent increase since 2015.
“The majority of Albanian boys and young men are trafficked with the complicity of their parents and the promise of financial remuneration by the traffickers,” said Steve Harvey, an international law enforcement specialist, who has presented his evidence to a Home Office inquiry into the problem.
“Families are approached by traffickers and engaged with on the basis of how they will profit financially from the deal. Additionally, the family are the traffickers and the children are seen and used as resources.”
“The traffickers and exploiters promise them money, a lot of money, and they promise them a job or when the boys are minors, they promise them accommodation, or clothes, so things that they need to have,” an anonymous source told the Home Office inquiry.
“In some cases family members were directly responsible for the recruitment and exploitation of male trafficking victims.”
Gangsters - notably the Hellbanianz street gang of Albanian boys in south London - promote their lifestyle to teenagers in their home country through social media.
Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, an Albanian specialist at Bournemouth University, said “blingbling” is key: “Sending messages home to their peers of success featuring an abundance of money, speedy cars, women, gold necklaces and Rolex watches, branding also guns and power.”
However, she noted that there were also children sent by their families to have a chance of a decent education and future. It means there is lucrative trade for smuggling gangs who can charge families up to £15,000 to get their children into the UK, according to police sources.
“Traffickers always have ready recruits because parents are keen for their children to go abroad and they and sending them younger and younger,” said a Home Office report on a fact-finding mission to Albania.
Typical is Endrit Vishaj, who entered the UK illegally aged 16 hidden on a lorry that took him to Solihull in the Midlands. Now, 18, he is serving a four year and four month jail sentence for dealing cocaine.
He was caught in a Bilston car park driving a BMW in which police officers found two one kilogram blocks of high quality cocaine worth £200,000 in a carrier bag with £55,500 cash - as well as his £1,000 fee for the job.
“He was used rather than the user and was waiting for further instructions after collecting the drugs in London and the money from a man who came to the vehicle in Bilston with a bag,” his lawyer told Wolverhampton Crown Court.
Another is Klevis Drazhi, 20, caught with 11 wraps of cocaine in Moorgate, London, and jailed for 18 months, claimed he was coerced into supplying drugs by a member of the Albania mafia after illegally entering the UK on the back of a lorry.
Alfred Hamzaj, 22 and jailed for eight months for dealing in Dewsbury, west Yorkshire, after being caught with four kilogrammes of cannabis, claimed he had fallen into crime after losing his job at a hand car wash due to his illegal immigration status.
The dangers are brought to life by an asylum case presented to a Parliamentary committee. Adnan, a 16 year old made homeless in his native Albania after his new stepfather threw him out, came to the UK because his parents had lived here when he was young.
In his appeal for asylum, he said: “I cannot return [to Albania] as I have no one. No one was caring for me. I want to continue my education. If I return I will be left on the streets. I don't know how I will cope.”
He lost his appeal, however, and was told he faced deportation. “The day after his [Home Office] interview Adnan disappeared from foster care, probably on his way by foot or hitch-hiking to London,” the committee was told.
“Rather than living on streets of Albania, he is now an undocumented street child in the UK.” /The Telegraph