TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police arrested 39 people on Saturday including four police officers on charges of having smuggled some 1,000 Albanians to Britain, the United States and Canada, and are looking for a dozen others, including two Bulgarians.
Since Albania embraced democracy in 1990, many Albanians have chosen to migrate for a better life, even paying hefty sums to smugglers. Now they can travel freely in and out of the European Union’s Schengen zone, but still need visas for Britain and North America.
National police chief Ardi Veliu said seven criminal groups operating in Albania, Bulgaria, Spain, France, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Britain, Ireland, the United States and Canada had smuggled some 1,000 people to Britain, the United States and Canada.
“Every person paid at least 7,000 pounds ($9,764) to get to the United Kingdom and from $24,000 to $30,000 to reach the U.S. and Canada,” Veliu told reporters.
He said the group had forged passports for those traveling and helped them reach their destinations by traveling via other European countries, or through the Dominican Republic or other countries in South America.
Veliu said Albanian police had worked with U.S. colleagues and European agencies as well as with Interpol and EUROPOL.
In a drive to convince the European Union to agree to start accession negotiations this June, Albania has stepped up its fight against crime and has lately seized 613 kilos of cocaine and busted a large cannabis smuggling group.
Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by David Holmes