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HomeBalkansHow Albania’s Mafia Took Control of Europe’s Trafficking Network

How Albania’s Mafia Took Control of Europe’s Trafficking Network

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America must get tough against the Mexican drug cartels, former US Attorney General, William Barr, declared earlier this month. Likening them to Isis, he backed a joint resolution from two Republican senators, giving the US president authority to deploy the military against the cartels in Mexico. Failure to do so would, he warned, allow the cartels to continue flooding the US with their ‘deadly drugs on an industrial scale’. America’s anti-drug strategy was ineffective because, he said, ‘it leaves the drug supply chain untouched…real progress requires aggressively attacking the drug supply at its source. The head of the snake is in Mexico.’ 

Europe must apply a similar approach if it’s to solve the migrant crisis. The deal agreed last week between Britain and France to tackle the small boats crisis in the Channel won’t on its own succeed because it doesn’t attack the crisis at its source.  

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron are aware of this. In the joint declaration issued at the conclusion of Friday’s summit in Paris, there was a pledge to ‘strengthen information exchange and cooperation on a range of threats’; these include terrorism, drug trafficking and ‘immigration-related organised crime’. 

It is noticeable that there has been a shift in Sunak’s rhetoric in recent weeks. Whether at PMQs, visiting a control centre in Dover or speaking at the Anglo-French summit in Paris, Sunak has repeated that the key to cracking the migrant crisis is ‘breaking the cycle of criminal gangs’.  

The head of Europe’s trafficking snake is Albania, whose powerful mafia network has been spreading west for two decades. Last year the German government, reported that there were 40 Albanian gangs in the country, which were becoming richer and more violent as they expanded their drugs and people trafficking. This presence is replicated in Belgium, Spain, Greece, France, Luxembourg and now Britain.  

The strengths of the Albanian mafia are, according to Belgian police, the gangsters’ ‘discipline, reliability and professionalism, (and their ability to connect)… particularly quickly with other criminal organisations’. One such connection is with Latin Americann drug cartels, who supply the Albanians with the cocaine that is smuggled into Europe. 

William Barr spoke of how the Mexican cartels ‘use bribery and terror tactics to entrench themselves’. This, too, has been the modus operandi of the Albanian mafia. In 2016, Europol, the EU’s agency for law enforcement cooperation, reported that 90 per cent of migrants reaching the EU used a smuggling network, generating between $5 billion to $6 billion (£4 to 5 billion) for the criminal gangs. Working with the Italian mafia, the Albanians have, according to a French think-tank, ‘corrupted thousands of civil servants who therefore turn a blind eye to the quality of false papers, or even help to issue them’.  

Albania set up the Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Structure (Spak) in 2019 headed by Arben Kraja, chief special prosecutor. In an interview in 2021, he admitted that ‘organised criminal groups are increasing their activities…to take advantage of the opportunities provided by globalisation’.

Kraja said Spak faced a huge challenge, one made more difficult by the ‘corruption and the impunity of high-level officials’. Among those charged, or convicted, in Albania with corruption are an ex-government minister and the country’s former chief prosecutor. 

The Albanian mafia has established trafficking networks across North Africa – from Morocco to Libya – as well as the Balkans, controlling the migratory routes and the transit camps. In recent years, they have pushed into northern France, hence the surge in small boat numbers across the Channel since 2018. Though the Albanians organise the networks, it is usually Kurdish, Syrian and Moroccan gangs who are present on the beaches.  

In an interview last year, Barr said that he had visited Mexico a couple of times as Attorney General but found Andrés Manuel López Obrador to be a president ‘who believes in hugs, not bullets’. Consequently, the government had ‘lost control of the country’.  

Europe cannot allow a similar situation in Albania. Last December Rishi Sunak met the Albanian PM Edi Rama in London. In a communique issued by No. 10, it was announced that the two countries will strengthen further our ‘excellent operational collaboration on law enforcement, with the objective of deterring and disrupting illegal migration and penetrating criminal networks…including but not limited to, effective data-sharing and more joint operational teams’. 

Most of the details of this operational collaboration will not be disclosed, but might it be similar to the assistance Britain gave Colombia in the 1990s to fight what the USA (who contributed $2 billion (£1.6 billion) in aid) described as ‘narco-terrorists’? British support included the SAS training of Colombia’s narcotics police, and the formation of an intelligence centre and a joint intelligence committee. 

Of the 45,000 migrants who crossed illegally into England last year, 12,000 were Albanians. Of that number, 10,000 were males aged between 20 to 40. In 2020, the number of Albanians who came on a small boat to England was 50. ‘The rise has been exponential and we think that is in the main due to the fact that Albanian criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the north of France,’ said clandestine Channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney in October.  

The National Crime Agency (NCA) reported last year that the Albanian mafia have in recent years ‘imported expertise gained from industrial-scale cannabis farming in their home country to the UK’. They also control the country’s cocaine market.  

The BBC reported in November that the Albanian gangs use the migrant camps around Calais ‘as a recruitment ground’; in return for getting the migrant across the Channel, the mafia arrange for them to work in their burgeoning drugs industry once in Britain. These offers are often made with threats to the migrant or their family in Albania. 

These are facts routinely overlooked by those on social media who oppose any Channel boat crackdown. One might call them the Useful Idiots of the Albanian mafia. 

Source: The Spectator

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