'LITTLE LONDON' - Albania's mountainous town filled with British-reg supercars and urban London talk


A CONVICTED people smuggler. who faces being kicked out of the country for a third time in less than two years, originates from a remote Albanian town where many of its residents specialise in sneaking people into the UK illegally. Kukes, in the mountainous north of Albania, is known locally as "Little London" due to the huge numbers of its 17,000 population with links to the UK and people trafficking gangs. Its streets are often filled with British-registered performance cars (above) and the young men showing them off on a trip back home speak English with an urban London twang, according to locals. One man expecting a homecoming being prepared is Hazir Lala, 38, who was arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Walthamstow, east London, on November 26. The NCA had been hunting him since July after receiving intelligence he had been able to get back into the country after being deported in August 2020 for overstaying the length of time he was allowed to be here.

In early 2020 he was extradited to Belgium to be sentenced for 2016 people smuggling offences he was convicted of in his absence in 2018. Lala was part of a gang smuggling people into the UK, but he was able to return here within weeks after a Belgian court gave him a five-year suspended sentence.

Dr Ben Greening, Executive Director of Migration Watch UK said: “Our porous borders have enabled a ludicrous farce in which someone with no right to be here has to be removed multiple times. Who is to say this will be the last?

"The government said it would deliver true immigration control but has abysmally failed so it’s no wonder that people feel they can abuse the UK in this way.”

Jacque Beer, NCA regional head of investigations, said: “Hazir Lala is a convicted human trafficker and has no place in the UK, his presence here presented an unacceptable risk to the public. “Tackling organised immigration crime and human trafficking is a priority for the Agency. “We saw with last week’s tragedy in the Channel, the horrendous dangers of organised immigration crime which the agency and its partners are doing everything possible to combat.” Lala was born in Kukes in March 1982. Nine years later, after the fall of the Albanian communist regime, young men started making their way from the town to the UK, in search of greater wealth. However, it was during the Kosovo War from March 1998 to June 1999 that most began to go. Many were able to dupe the Home Office into giving them asylum by claiming to be refugees from war-torn Kosovo, which is just 17 miles away from Kukes. An Albanian source, who has spent time in the UK, said: "Since 1998 thousands of people from Kukes got asylum in the UK. "Kukes is the city with the largest number of Albanian migrants in the UK and for many years has been a hub for people trafficker operations from Albania to the UK. "If you visited you would see so many British registered vehicles parked in the streets." A former deputy director of Kukes Police, who would not be named, said he dealt with organised crime and human trafficking in the Kukes district said drug supply and people smuggling networks had become established in the UK among the migrant populations. He said: "British police and NCA officers have been in Kukes and have held meetings, although the impact of this co-operation on the crime gangs;' activities has been limited." Last week a video was posted on Instagram which reportedly showed a small boat crammed with 53 people, including 15 Albanians, being rescued by a British vessel. The video was captioned: "Have a look at how we put our lives in danger. Thanks for the help of the UK ship. "We were 15 Albanian and 38 of other nationalities. We were travelling for 12 hours, 53 people together. We all were about to face death.” A Separate video posted on Facebook last week was said to show footage of a group of young Albanian men from the town of Tropoja, in the Kukes region, who tried to cross the Channel in a small boat. The translated caption said: "I urge you not to try. We were 20 Albanian boys from the city of Tropoja." Our source said more Albanians were trying to reach the UK by Channel boats now as it had brought down the price of getting here. He said: "In 1998 when Albanians started to get illegally into the UK they used to pay 1,000 USD to be hidden on the back of a lorry and now that price has gone up to 15,000 euros. "So, they see boats to the UK as much cheaper as they pay between 5,000 to 7,000 euros each."