In a cafe in Albania’s capital city, Tirana, we’re watching a shaky video of a dinghy filled with 44 migrants crossing the channel to England.
The smugglers have packed them in tightly.
Every extra person means more cash.
There are four or five life jackets for the whole boat.
“I was very frightened because there weren’t many life jackets,” said the 32-year-old Albanian showing us the footage which was filmed last month.
“I didn’t think too much.
“We took that risk and most people were afraid.”
He was on that boat that day after paying Kurdish traffickers €3,500 (£3,000) to get him to the UK.
After driving from Albania across Europe to Belgium and then France, he waited in a camp for a signal it was time to leave.
He is one of more than 12,000 Albanians who have illegally crossed to England in small boats this year.
“When we reached English waters, we notified 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 back to Albania, but this story is a common one.
‘If I had the chance, I’d go right now to England’
Footage of trips are easy to find on social media, as are adverts from smugglers for cut-price crossings.
They’re tempting offers for many in northeast Albania, the most deprived corner of one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Wages are low, jobs are scarce, and people want to escape.
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Alex, whose name has been changed, is among 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’d go right now to England,” he said.
“Here doesn’t have no jobs, no nothing… and you’re going to work like 10 hours for £10, basically so it’s no life here.”
His isn’t an isolated case – most Albanian migrants come from this region.
In one village, the head of the community told us the former population of 2,000 people has dwindled to around 400 since the fall of communism.
He said some went to the city, but many escaped abroad.
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Albanian PM waiting for UK ‘invasion’ apology ‘No kills, no drugs’
In the nearby city of Kukës, it’s a similar story.
People tell us every family has two or three people living in the UK.
Some are there legally, others not.
So why, I wonder, is it such a dream destination?
“What I am thinking is in the UK is a good life – no kills, no drugs – this is my own thinking,” said a man calling himself David.
It’s not his real name – he changed it, as he too has spent time illegally in the UK.
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UK asylum spending tops £2bn Rather than pay smugglers, he said he travelled to France and cut the wire around lorry parks before hiding in trucks and making his way across to England.
He worked for five years before being deported.
He said he had to go so he could make money to send back 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 say[s] that is a liar. Albanians is not criminals. Albanians is good people, good culture. We all work hard,” he replied.
“But you break the law to go. You go illegally,” I said.
“Yeah, illegal. But everybody, we go illegal. I told you, for a good life,” he replied.
The number of Albanians coming in small boats has rocketed from 800 in 2021 to more than 12,000 in 2022.
Some 10,000 of them were young men – which is around 1% of working age males, according to Eurostat.
Home Office statistics show on average 53% of Albanian asylum claims are granted, mostly to women and children.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman recently referred to “an invasion” of asylum seekers, a comment which many believe has done little to help solve the problem.
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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told me: “I never heard an apology, which brings me to think that instead of exaggerated expression of frustration, this was a calculated attack.
“And this is what is the most worrisome.
“When you apologise, it’s okay – it happened.
“When you don’t, and when you avoid it, then it means that you want something from what’s said. So, it means that there is a calculation behind it, it means that you really are talking to a certain number of voters that want to hear this.
“And you are feeding them with this 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 pitched the idea of a joint special force with the UK to help target the traffickers.
‘Albania will not be London, will not be Paris, will not be Berlin’
But having been prime minister since 2013, I wondered how much responsibility he felt for the feelings of hopelessness that are pushing people abroad.
“It’s true that you can hear people saying so and it’s also true that now it’s a period of 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 should do. We should do everything to improve the situation here and to make it better and better for everyone.
“But we know also that whatever we do, Albania will not be London, will not be Paris, will not be Berlin.”
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A UK government spokesperson said: “We are seeing large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK – the numbers are increasing and this cannot go on.”
“With cooperation from the government of Albania, we are taking every opportunity to intercept the work of organised criminal gangs and people smugglers, and speeding up the removal of Albanians with no 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 on coming.