An increasing number of Albanians are crossing the English Channel from France using small boats.

Since July 2022, the British press has been raising concerns about an increasing number of Albanians illegally crossing the English Channel from France.1 The number jumped from 50 in 2020 to around 13 000 as of 13 December 2022.2 Of these, around 10 000 are single, adult men; the remaining 2 000 are women and children.3 Irregular immigration from Albania is nothing new: the UK has long been a magnet for Albanians – particularly young men. Until recently, they had mostly been smuggled in trucks crossing the Channel by ferry, but now many migrants are attempting the crossing in small boats.

In November 2022, the UK and Albania engaged in a public debate about the large influx of Albanians into the UK. The UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, referred to this crisis in the Channel as an ‘invasion of our southern coast’,4 and characterized the immigrants from Albania as being ‘either part of organized criminal gangs and procuring their journey through those nefarious means, or […] coming here and partaking in criminal activity, particularly related to drugs’.5 Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama retorted that the British government was using Albanians as scapegoats for failed UK immigration policies.6

Migrants move a smuggling boat into the water as they embark on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on 12 October 2022, in an attempt to cross the English Channel.

Migrants move a smuggling boat into the water as they embark on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on 12 October 2022, in an attempt to cross the English Channel.

Photo: Sameer al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images

Certainly, one factor encouraging Albanian migration to the UK is the possibility of recruitment by Albanian organized crime groups seeking compatriots to assist with indoor cannabis growth.7 There have recently been a number of arrests of Albanians allegedly leading organized criminal groups who facilitated the illegal entry of Albanian nationals into the UK to work on cannabis farms.8 Large numbers of people from Afghanistan and Iran have also been arrested in Channel crossings.9

While the situation of Albanian immigration has garnered a lot of media and political attention in both Albania and the UK, there is less focus on changes in the methods used to cross into the UK – more specifically, why large numbers of Albanians are now risking the crossing using small boats, instead of routes and methods popular in the past. First-hand research carried out by the GI-TOC in both Albania and the UK has identified several factors behind this shift, including reduced cost and the existence of viral marketing.

One of the main factors is price. According to people familiar with the modalities, crossing by boat is considered relatively cheap, quick and easy. Whereas smuggling by truck on board a ferry costs between €22 500 and €28 000, the journey by small boat – usually an inflatable dingy – costs between €3 000 and €4 500. To undertake the arduous crossing, Albanians usually travel by bus through Kosovo or North Macedonia, then on to Serbia, Hungary, Germany and finally Belgium, a total of more than 2 200 kilometres. This route is popular because controls at the Hungarian border are considered less strict than elsewhere.10

Previously, travelling by air or road involved securing fake passports and engaging intermediaries. It also became risky as border controls were tightened in both the UK and France. Now in the case of small boats, many of the arrangements are made over social media. Furthermore, the 80% reduction in price seems to have opened the market up to people willing to take the risk without having to take out large loans, sell land or livestock or become indebted to smugglers or relatives, which was the case in the past.11

The GI-TOC has come across a number of social media accounts – particularly on TikTok – that advertise services for Albanians trying to get to the UK by boat.12 In the typical short and punchy style of TikTok videos, the advertisements post messages such as ‘… to England. 4 000 pounds. With boats. Every day’ or ‘… to London. [It’s] 100% sure, no chance of failure. These are the best prices in the market.’ Some posts advertise the next dates of departure while others simply contain contact information. Most of the accounts reviewed by the GI-TOC were created within the past year.13

This low-budget technique of advertising is attractive for the smugglers as well as the end-users. 14 The videos are cheap to produce, the use of recurrent hashtags enable the videos to spread virally and they appeal to youth, who are the main target audience.15 Algorithms allow smugglers to direct their material towards the ‘For You’ feed of the specific audience they are trying to reach. Advertising online also gives the smugglers a degree of secrecy since the content can be posted anonymously or under a fake name. Furthermore, young people are lured with images of a glamourous UK lifestyle.16

While the advertisements are probably produced by Albanians, it is thought that the cross-Channel smuggling business is led and controlled by Iraqi Kurdish organized criminal groups.17 Migrants seeking to cross the Channel assemble in informal camps – for example, in the suburbs of Dunkirk, France – which are controlled by these criminal groups, and wait there until an Albanian middleman comes to inform them of the time, date and place of the crossing. They are also provided with a GPS device and a boat, which one of the immigrants is trained to pilot.18

A major push factor encouraging migration to the UK is economic inequality in Albania, which is one of the poorest countries in Europe. In 2022, it was ranked as the 90th poorest country in the world, with a GDP of just US$17 858 per capita (adjusted for relative purchasing power).19 The average income per year in Albania is US$6 110, compared to US$45 380 in the UK.20 A recent Balkan barometer showed that for 59% of Albanians, the country’s difficult economic situation is their biggest concern.21 Young people who see few opportunities at home will seek them abroad.22

Moreover, the large Albanian diaspora in the UK is a magnet for compatriots; many Albanian entrepreneurs in the UK prefer to hire their relatives.23 While the media like to highlight the statistic that there are more than 1 000 Albanians in prison in the UK, it is worth noting that, according to Prime Minister Rama, Albanians lead around 1 200 businesses in the UK.24

A small boat packed with people is rescued in English waters on 13 November 2022.

A small boat packed with people is rescued in English waters on 13 November 2022.

Photo: Andrew Aitchison/In pictures via Getty Images

Notably, criminals running the smuggling market seem to be targeting women, using the argument that they have a high chance of them having their asylum claims accepted. Although Albanians are overall less likely to be granted asylum,25 the claims of Albanian female and child asylum seekers have a 90% success rate (compared to 14% for Albanian adult males).26

Addressing this politically charged crisis will require greater practical cooperation between the countries involved rather than public recriminations. This includes joint law enforcement efforts between Albania, France and the UK to identify and disrupt smuggling networks. It will also require the creation of more legal options for Albanians seeking employment in the UK (such as seasonal work), public awareness campaigns to highlight the risks of the journey and efforts to create more jobs in Albania. Furthermore, it is important to reduce young Albanians’ vulnerability to becoming involved in crime by strengthening resilience in remote communities and providing young Albanians with sufficient educational and employment opportunities at home. These types of initiatives are already being taken, but not to the extent necessary.


  1. Mark Hookham, 4 in 10 migrants from peaceful Albania, not war-torn states, Daily Mail, 6 August 2022,

  2. Albanian migrants: Why are they coming to the UK and how many have arrived?, BBC, 14 January 2023,

  3. UK Parliament, Home Affairs Committee, Channel crossings, 26 October 2022,

  4. UK home secretary slammed for asylum seeker ‘invasion’ remarks, Al Jazeera, 1 November 2022,

  5. Rajeev Syal and Aina J Khan, Britain is targeting Albanians to excuse policy failures, says country’s PM, The Guardian, 2 November 2022,

  6. Ibid. 

  7. Rajeev Syal, Rise in Albanian asylum seekers may be down to criminal gangs, The Guardian, 25 August 2022,

  8. National Crime Agency, Alleged head of organized crime group arrested, WiredGov, 25 May 2022,

  9. Amelia Gentleman, Afghans with western links among rising number trying to cross Channel, The Guardian, 3 June 2022,

  10. Ervisa Qefa, ‘Lutem të kemi ndonjë që di të drejtojë gomonen’, ‘Piranjat’ zbulojnë hap pas hapi kalvarin e shqiptarëve drejt Anglisë, ABC News, 9 October 2022, 

  11. He fled to England illegally, the Albanian confesses and shows the difficulties: We ran out of gas in the middle of the ocean, Sot News, 19 October 2022,–i543654

  12. For examples of videos on TikTok advertising services for reaching the UK by boat, see;;

  13. Fjori Sinoruka, Rise in TikTok ads among Albanians selling smuggling operations to UK, BalkanInsight, 8 August 2022,

  14. Oliver Harvey, Tiktok traffickers: People traffickers using TikTok to sell £4.5k Channel crossings to Albanians – insisting ‘the French won’t stop you’, The Sun, 8 August 2022,; Albanian migrants offered ‘TikTok Black Friday’ deals by people smugglers ahead of Govt crackdown, LBC, 27 August 2022,; Mat Dathan, Crossing the Channel is easy, says Albanian child in TikTok advert, The Times, 24 September 2022,

  15., Tiktok users in Albania, August 2022,

  16. ‘They think they will find paradise, but …’, the strong warning from The Times: In five years Albania will be empty, Sot News, 4 November 2022,

  17. ‘Piranjat’ sjellin kalvarin e vuajtjeve që shqiptarët kalojnë për të mbërritur në Britani, ABC News, 16 October 2022,

  18. 250 euro batanija, ‘Piranjat’ vizitojnë kampin e shqiptarëve në Francë, biseda me trafikantin nga Vlora që u “premton” klandestinëve ëndrrën angleze, ABC News, 2 October 2022,

  19. International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2022,

  20. World Data, Country comparison,

  21. Ibid. 

  22. Anesa Agović and Walter Kemp, Resilient Balkans: Strengthening resilience of youth to organized crime, GI-TOC, April 2022,

  23. Edi Rama, Twitter, 2 November 2022,

  24. Giada Kuka, Rama to British official: Albanians are not criminals, they run businesses in Britain, Euronews, 3 November 2022,

  25. UK Home Office, Factsheet: Small boat crossings since July 2022, 2 November 2022,

  26. Ibid.