The National Crime Agency has said it is increasingly concerned about violent Albanian criminal gangs, which have considerable control over the illegal cocaine market.
In its annual assessment of organised crime [pdf], the NCA warns that Albanian gangs have “established a high-profile influence within UK organised crime”. Their main focus is the often violent trade in trafficking cocaine to London, the report warns.
It says: “Criminals from the Balkans are increasingly expanding their network of influence, forming direct relationships with cocaine suppliers in Latin America. The threat faced from Albanian crime groups is significant. London is their primary hub, but they are established across the UK. ”
The report says Albanians make up just 0.8% of organised criminals in the UK, behind British nationals (61.6%); unknown nationalities (23.5%); Romanians (1.5%); Pakistanis (1.2%) and Polish (0.9%). But it warns that the impact of Albanian criminals was particularly troubling because of their readiness to use serious violence.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Matthew Horne, the deputy director general of the NCA, said: “While the numbers involved are relatively small, the impact of these groups is significant.
“We are seeing significant control being exerted particularly by organised crime from Albania in so far as cocaine in particular is concerned … You are talking about tens of thousands [of pounds] generally in transactions every week.”
He said there was a danger innocent people could be killed or injured in the Albanian gang warfare.
Asked about gang infighting, Horne said: “It spreads beyond that. The violence is often used to enforce the model of working. We are concerned that there are innocent bystanders in this.”
This month the Observer reported that Albanians are one of the largest groups of illegal immigrants in the UK. It also reported that the number of Albanian children being helped by Barnardo’s specialist trafficking support teams was second only to those from Vietnam.
The Observer reported: “Officially, the UK is home to about 20,000 Albanians. But more are known to have entered, having pretended to be Kosovans fleeing the war in Yugoslavia.
“The UK is the ultimate destination for younger Albanians, who come from a country where 70% of the population is Muslim and the medieval code of kanun holds sway in rural areas. This decrees that spilled blood must be paid for with spilled blood, a stipulation that, down the years, has resulted in hundreds of tit-for-tat murders.
“The blood feuds are recognised by the European commission, as one of the most common ‘push factors’ driving asylum flows from Albania, along with ‘deprivation, unemployment, discrimination and poor access to healthcare, social benefits and education’.”
The NCA said British and Romanian gangs were the most prevalent offenders in human trafficking, with eastern Europe the most cited wider region of origin involved.
But it said criminal gangs, including Albanians, were often involved in both drug and people trafficking.
Horne said: “Criminal networks are diversifying and it is not uncommon to find the same groups involved in trafficking people or illicit commodities, using the same methods or infrastructure.”