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The BBC's Brian Barron:
"Trafficking in people is the world's fastest growing criminal business"
 real 56k

Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Albanian mafia steps up people smuggling
Children are pawns in Albanian mafia smuggling operations
Children are pawns in Albanian mafia smuggling operations
In his second special report from the southern Adriatic, the BBC's Brian Barron investigates how Albanian gangsters are profiting from human trafficking

One of Italy's top anti-Mafia magistrates says Albanian gangsters are taking control of organised crime on both sides of the Adriatic.

The most lucrative commodities are illegal immigrants.


Everything passes via the Albanians. The road for drugs and arms and people...is in Albanian hands

Cataldo Motta, Italian anti-mafia prosecutor
In fact, trafficking in people is the world's fastest growing criminal business. In the past year, nearly 200 died trying to reach Italy.

Last week, two Italian policemen were killed as well as two Albanian smugglers, in a chase and collision in the Adriatic.

It is in this region - amid reports of more clandestine landings - that the police scour the beaches.

Large scale trafficking

However, the coast is so vast that only a small percentage of illegal immigrants are caught.

Reliable figures on the scale of people smuggling are hard to come by.

Italian warships aren't able to stop people smuggling from Albania
Italian warships aren't able to stop people being smuggled from Albania
There are believed to be between 20 and 40 million illegal immigrants in the world.

Several million are believed to be in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Italian warships are highly visible in Albanian ports in a vain attempt to deter clandestine operations.

However, Italian commanders told me they have no powers to intervene, let alone use force.

One of Italy's top prosecutors, Cataldo Motta, who has identified Albania's most dangerous mobsters, says they are a threat to Western society.

Cataldo Motta (centre) is always accompanied by armed guards
Cataldo Motta (centre) is always accompanied by armed guards
"Albanian organised crime has become a point of reference for all criminal activity today," he says.

"Everything passes via the Albanians. The road for drugs and arms and people, meaning illegal immigrants destined for Europe, is in Albanian hands."

When the prosecutor leaves his office, three police bodyguards are at his side because of the risk of assassination by Albanian gangsters.

Child labour

The latest pawns of the people smugglers are children.

Smuggled children
Smuggled children, once in Italy, aren't usually returned to Albania
The Italian authorities will not order the enforced repatriation of anyone under 18 and the gangsters are aware of this.

At a transit camp for illegals from all over the world, 35 young Albanian teenagers are being prepared for life in Italy.

They were consigned to smugglers' boats by their families.

Roberto Matrandold, a psychiatrist, says that the children suffer from stress.

"The stress comes from the voyage itself which is more and more dangerous," he says.


I think it is the biggest problem we face in Italy and in Europe because there's so much money being made which was not the case before

Laura Balbo, adviser to the Italian prime minister
"And the kids are also under pressure from their parents, back in Albania, who've sent them over to Italy with orders to somehow find work or make money to send home."

In Rome, at a Vatican-sponsored convention, delegates heard warnings about far greater numbers of illegal immigrants in the years ahead.

Laura Balbo, an adviser to the prime minister, says that Italy wants co-ordinated European action.

"I think it is the biggest problem we face in Italy and in Europe because there's so much money being made which was not the case before," she says.

"It has become the main source of money for organised crime."

Italy's attitude towards illegal immigrants is hardening
Italy's attitude towards illegal immigrants is hardening
"So it is hard to imagine how we can fight this kind of international organisation."

Public attitudes towards illegal immigrants are hardening.

They are blamed for rising crime. In fact, Italy is chronically short of workers because of its falling birth-rate and growing economy.

Paradoxically, as operations intensify against people smugglers, the door is about to be opened for many more legal immigrants.

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