UK: Human Trafficking Surge Linked to Albanian Gangs

Published: 19 November 2018

human traffickingThe UK's National Crime Agency reported a 35 percent increase in human trafficking victims in 2017.

By Lydia Osborne

Sophisticated Albanian gangs are linked to the upsurge of trafficking victims in the United Kingdom, most of whom are brought from Albania and passed around Europe as commodities through expansive criminal networks, Sky News reported Monday.

The latest statistics from the National Crime Agency show that 5,145 potential trafficking victims were reported to British authorities in 2017 — that is a 35 percent increase from the previous year. A majority of victims are Albanians forced to work in the sex industry or exploited for cheap, unregulated labor.

These gangs are far-reaching and particularly resilient. "Albanian organised criminal gangs are operating at the higher end of sophistication and are certainly operating in the UK as they do within several other countries in western Europe,” NCA deputy director Tom Dowdall told Sky News.

"They are what we call 'poly-criminals' as well, so not only are they involved in organised immigration crime and trafficking but also in drug smuggling, firearms trafficking and often violent and serious organised crime," he said.

Both poverty and corruption bolster the problem, according to a 2018 US report on human trafficking. Young, vulnerable Albanians are increasingly being targeted through fake social media accounts advertising jobs that do not actually exist.

Around half of the victims in the UK face sexual exploitation, according to the NCA stats. The other half are forced to work off the books for menial or no money in places people commonly frequent, such as nail salons or car washes.

"When you go to a nail bar, if the person will not engage in eye contact, she can't speak, someone is floating around, it's cash only, clearly something isn't right," Emilie Martin, head of the Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking unit, told Sky News.

"It's opening your eyes.”

In 2018, the UK-wide Modern Slavery Helpline saw a dramatic spike in potential trafficking victims over the first six months of the year.  According to its figures, there was a 17 percent increase in calls to the helpline during the second quarter of the year as compared to the first, with an unprecedented 605 calls in June alone.