Dozens of accounts on TikTok maintained by smugglers offer refugees the ability to illegally cross the English Channel, with the price of such a trip between €2,250 and €13,450.
For six months, dozens of videos in Albanian promoting so-called trips from France to England have been posted daily on the social media platform. Their authors use the same marketing codes as tour operators, including idyllic London landscapes, smiling faces on spacious boats navigating calm waters, and upbeat music. Except these people are not exactly selling a weekend in London, but an illegal Channel crossing.
The messages posted by the smugglers on the social network could not be more explicit. They claim phrases like “Fast and safe transport, the best price on the market at £6,000,” or “Calais-Dover in two hours and thirty minutes, 1,000% safe crossing,” or “Another successful passage today, contact me in PM, there are departures every day.”
The StreetPress news outlet has identified at least 58 Albanian accounts offering crossings by boat, truck, or plane, for prices varying between £2,000 and £12,000 (€2,250 and €13,450). Some have several thousand followers.
In Albania, the phenomenon continues to grow on TikTok, becoming an uncontrollable trend. Each time an account is reported and closed by the application, the smuggling networks change identifiers to reappear immediately. The Chinese company can no longer keep up.
Thus, on the account “rruge per angli,” meaning “road to England” in Albanian, the author warns his detractors in a video: “To all those who report my accounts, I do not give up. I would reopen them.”
The number of videos is such that Albanian content creators have fun parodying the smugglers’ shots. They denounce with a certain cynicism the scam by replacing the boats with tractors, pedal boats, or inflatable buoys. Others prefer to ride the wave by imitating clandestine crossings with dubious humor.
Influencer Kejsilda Muca, who has more than 120,000 subscribers on TikTok, placed herself in the trunk of a Mercedes, laughing out loud, with the following message: “On the way to England, after I am refused the visa twice. The truck is old-fashioned.”
Created in 2010, Joq Albania, an entertainment and social news platform, seeks to raise awareness among young Albanians of the deadly risks of crossing the Channel.
“This phenomenon on TikTok has increased the number of young Albanians leaving for the United Kingdom. These videos have gone viral over the past six months. Previously, they traveled by truck,” explains Gent Çekeli, reporter and head of the independent news outlet.
According to the British interior ministry, Albanian refugees were the most numerous to cross the Channel by boat during the first half of 2022, just ahead of the Afghans, with 2,165 entries into England. In France, Albanians accounted for the highest number of people locked up in detention centers in 2021. Although Albania remained in sixth place among the countries of origin of asylum seekers in France, the majority of requests were rejected. Many then choose to make the journey to England in search of freedom and dignity.
“The number of young people leaving has increased massively due to low wages and rising prices in Albania. Joq Albania has always challenged the authorities on the deadly dangers of these departures, but no one reacts,” says Gent Çekeli. Since 2020, he has also denounced the unjustified closure of his media in Albania and the obstacles to press freedom.
The resources invested in preventing Channel crossings are colossal, but the effort remains ineffective. The police presence has continued to increase in Calais in recent years, and attempts to cross the Channel and the resulting tragedies have multiplied significantly. Since the beginning of the year, 23,465 people have crossed the Channel aboard makeshift boats. In an investigative report published in February 2022, its author, Pierre Bonnevalle, demonstrated the ineffectiveness of 30 years of political deterrence.
Since 2020, a Franco-British intelligence unit has been created to dismantle the networks of smugglers at the border. On November 22, 2021, two days before the deadliest shipwreck in the English Channel, which caused the death of 27 people, the French Ministry of the Interior announced the engagement of additional means to effectively fight against illegal immigration along the coasts. More than €11 million was invested in the acquisition of equipment.
If the state focuses its immigration policy on the repression of alleged perpetrators of assistance in illegal entry and residence, the victims of smuggling networks are often forgotten.
“We must not see the phenomenon only from the side of the traffickers. That is too often what the police do. They do not see the victims,” says Geneviève Colas, coordinator of the collective against trafficking, which brings together 28 associations committed to the fight against human trafficking.
She regrets that the authorities do not sufficiently consider situations of trafficking in human beings, which are not limited to crossing the border. If payment is not made on time, the heads of networks can force these people to repay their debts for years.
“For some, it will be labor exploitation, sexual exploitation; others, threats to family back home. Victims must be allowed to file a complaint and be accompanied,” Colas adds.