Testimonies of migrants in the United Kingdom, reported by an Albanian television channel, reveal that young Albanian men are recruited to work on cannabis "farms" run by criminal organizations within three days of arriving in the country.
Young men in their twenties are working on cannabis farms in England to pay back the cost of their Channel crossing, revealed a report broadcast by the Albanian television channel A2CNN. The story was taken up by the British media The Telegraph on Sunday October 16, highlighting the living conditions of Albanian migrants in the United Kingdom, sometimes in the very heart of London, just a few days after arriving in the country.
With their faces covered, the young men explained that they had been recruited by members of Albanian gangs right after leaving the detention centers through which newcomers arriving by the Channel must pass. Several of them said "relatives" came to pick them up from the hotels where they were housed by the government. Shortly after, they began to work in "farms": improvised facilities in empty houses or industrial buildings, in England and Wales, where traffickers cultivate cannabis plants.
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The lapse of time is sometimes extremely short between the migrant's arrival on British shores and the beginning of their work on these "farms": some claimed that they were recruited only three days after their arrival in the United Kingdom.
'We stay locked in this house for 24 hours'
The Albanian youths interviewed described their work as "dangerous", with the double threat of arrest during police raids or attacks by other criminal organizations seeking to steal the cannabis.
"They break into the house to rob you and take all the work you have done for many weeks. They beat you up. They leave you paralysed. Robbers throw acid into your eyes. Perhaps you can face death," said one Albanian youth.
Another young man described the tasks of these undocumented workers. "We stay 24-hours locked in this house. We put water on the plants. When the temperature is high, we switch off the lights. When it's cold, we put up the temperature. These plants take 55 to 60 days to grow," he said.
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As dangerous as it is, this illegal work represents for many one of the only ways of earning money in order to pay back the sums borrowed to finance the crossing of the English Channel. A migrant featured in the Albanian television report claims to be indepted to his relatives after borrowing £5,000 (about €5,800) to pay his Kurdish smugglers.
Although the report focuses exclusively on Albanian migrants — who made up the majority among recent arrivals via the Channel and represented an increase of 17% compared to 2021 — they are not the only ones to be threatened by criminal networks. According to data collected by the NGO ECPAT UK, among the children counted in 2020-2021 by the National Referral Mechanism for victims of modern slavery or trafficking, 60% are British. The other countries of origin of these children are, in the order of their frequency: Vietnam, Sudan, Albania, Romania, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Nigeria.
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"Children who arrive alone in the UK are particularly vulnerable and we know that many gangs target migrant children," said the UK's Refugee Council.
The actions of these networks which exploit human beings have been brought to light at a time when England is shaken by the news of the disappearance of more than 100 unaccompanied child migrants in England.
116 migrant children missing
According to data obtained by the BBC, 116 migrant children who arrived alone in the country have disappeared off the radars of the administration after having been accommodated in hotels managed by the Home Office (equivalent to the French Ministry of the Interior), between July 2021 and August 2022. Various associations have expressed concern that the children could have fallen into a whole range of exploitative situations.
Hotels located all over the country are used to temporarily accommodate migrants who have arrived, for the vast majority on small boats from across the Channel. This form of accomodation is not usually intended for children, but the other lodging solutions had already reached full capacity.