Kukes, Albania is one of the poorest cities in Europe. Since the end of pandemic lockdowns, the city has seen a sharp rise in the number of Albanians, especially men, seeking asylum in the UK.

This article is a real eye-opener as to what’s going on, and talks about everything from TikTok propaganda to criminal gangs and cannabis houses. Well worth a read, especially to show the other side of the “small boats” rhetoric.

TikTok videos showing fast cars
In 2022, the number of people leaving Albania for the U.K. ticked up dramatically, as well as the number of those seeking asylum, at around 16,000, more than triple the previous year. According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, one reason for the uptick in claims may be that Albanians who lack proper immigration status are more likely to be identified, leading them to claim asylum in order to delay being deported. But Albanians claiming asylum are also often victims of blood feuds — long-standing disputes between communities, often resulting in cycles of revenge — and viciously exploitative trafficking networks that threaten them and their families if they return to Albania.

By 2022, Albanian criminal gangs in Britain were in control of the country’s illegal marijuana-growing trade, taking over from Vietnamese gangs who had previously dominated the market. The U.K.’s lockdown — with its quiet streets and newly empty businesses and buildings — likely created the perfect conditions for setting up new cannabis farms all over the country. During lockdown, these gangs expanded production and needed an ever-growing labor force to tend the plants — growing them under high-wattage lamps, watering them and treating them with chemicals and fertilizers. So they started recruiting.

Everyone in Kukes remembers it: The price of passage from Albania to the U.K. on a truck or small boat suddenly dropped when Covid-19 restrictions began to ease. Before the pandemic, smugglers typically charged 18,000 pounds (around $22,800) to take Albanians across the channel. But last year, posts started popping up on TikTok advertising knock-down prices to Britain starting at around 4,000 pounds (around $5,000).

People in Kukes told me that even if they weren’t interested in being smuggled abroad, TikTok’s algorithm would feed them smuggling content — so while they were watching other unrelated videos, suddenly an anonymous post advertising cheap passage to the U.K. would appear on their “For You” feed.

Source: The Albanian town that TikTok emptied | Coda Story