The smuggling of people in Albania is carried out through cooperation between Albanian, Moroccan and Kurdish groups, all residents of the country.
These groups work together to receive groups of migrants from the border with Greece and to transport them through Albania. The cost for this service is about 250 euros per immigrant for those traveling in groups. For those who want to travel on their own, the price can be in the thousands of Euros.
A broker who spoke to Exit explained “We have contacts, we get the exact locations and we contact the drivers.” Its role is to organize drivers, negotiate, organize the reception of immigrants and manage all payments to people in the chain.
Immigrants wishing to be transported will usually go through an “agency” in the Greek city of Ioannina. A fee is paid to the “agent” who connects them with their drivers in Albania. The migrants will then be sent to the Albanian-Greek border where they cross illegally. Before crossing, an individual in the group is given the number of the driver who will collect them on the Albanian side. Once in Albania, they will contact and go to an agreed location.
In this recording taken from Exit, you can hear a migrant informing the Albanian mediator about his progress in Ioannina.
In the future, you may hear another broker assurer that if caught, they will not involve him in human smuggling.
The driver takes them, takes a photo or video and sends it to the “agent” in Greece.
The journey begins, usually in vans or rental cars, though construction vehicles are now being used as a way to avoid detection. Another car will usually walk a few miles ahead to see police and checkpoints and report. In cases where there are such obstacles, the driver will leave the migrants in the village and pass the police in an empty vehicle. A few miles further, he will send the migrants to his location and wait for them to arrive.
If they successfully arrive in Tirana, the driver drops them off at an agreed location and sends a photo and location to the “Agent” who then releases the funds via wire transfer. The broker then uses the youngsters to withdraw money from the wire transfer office so as not to reveal their identities.
Once in Tirana, the migrants will then proceed to a network of safe houses in Laprake, where they have the opportunity to recover before the rest of the trip.
A driver interviewed by Exit said he received 50 euros per immigrant, per trip. He made three such trips before being caught by police. His reason for getting involved in this work was the fact that he needed money to support his family.
When asked what kind of people want to travel through Albania, he explained that they are normal people and include a large number of women and children.
“Men, women, children, many women and children,” he said, adding that they are simply “normal people” fleeing war in their own countries. The driver added that they are very afraid of the police and that is why they pay for transportation in the hope that it will reduce the likelihood of their capture.
Despite police crackdowns over the past year, a significant number of migrants are still being smuggled successfully through the country from Greece to the borders with Kosovo or Montenegro. Their final destination is an EU member state, usually Italy, Austria or Hungary. Since 2018, Albania has hosted one of the main corridors of illegal immigration in Europe.
Between 2009 and 2017, 1000 to 3000 emigrants were caught in Albania. After 2017, this increased and the current number of immigrants stands at more than 18,800. According to data from 2019, 30% come from Iraq, 28% from Syria, 14% from Morocco and 9% from Algeria. The rest comes from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
There are currently more irregular migrants in the country than regular ones. There are about 15,000 individuals with residence permits since 2020, and more than 18,800 irregularities. This does not take into account those who are here but have not been identified by the authorities.
In 2019, there were at least 6600 asylum seekers in Albania, including about 765 families. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 665 asylum applications and 71 were approved. Between 2018 and 2020, asylum applications increased to 13,222 of which only 44 were approved.
There are four types of irregular migrants as defined by the authorities; asylum seekers who are held in asylum centers until their case is resolved, victims of trafficking held in specialized centers, irregular migrants held in a closed center, or unaccompanied minors who are housed in social centers.
There are currently only five state centers in the country to house migrants. Some individuals leave these centers and then try to travel to EU countries through smuggling networks that provide transportation to certain points, for a fee. These networks are the result of the largest number of migrants seeking to reach EU countries over the last four years.
A middle-aged man involved in coordinating the transport of migrants from the Albanian / Greek border told Exit that some migrants were apprehended by police, interviewed and then returned to the border without the knowledge of Greek authorities. He said these individuals will continue to try to cross the border and continue their journey.
Those who have the opportunity to run do so, others will cross the country on foot.
Both the driver and the broker who spoke to Exit said that they face difficulties in their work due to the presence of the police, but that despite this, a large number of migrants are still traveling through undiscovered country. The mediator pointed out and explained that there is an element of police co-operation in some parts of the country, where State Police officers will guarantee safe passage through certain areas in exchange for money. Exit has seen some messages that seem to confirm this, but further verification has not been possible.