Albanian drugs gangs across Britain posing as modern slavery victims

Albanian drugs gangs across Britain posing as modern slavery victims

Albanian drugs gangs running cannabis farms across Britain are posing as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking to avoid prosecution

  • Police chiefs seeing rise in use of National Referral Mechanism in recent years
  • This is a tool used to highlight cases where people may have been exploited
  • Concerns over more ‘contentious’ claims being made by Albanians in particular

Albanian drugs gangs running cannabis farms across Britain are posing as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking to avoid prosecution.

Police chiefs have seen a significant rise in western Balkans using the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in recent years – a tool used to highlight potential cases where people may have been exploited.

But officers investigating the drugs racket suggest the validity of many such claims is ‘really contentious’, the Times reports.

Of the 10,613 potential victims of trafficking, slavery and forced labour referred to the NRM last year, 452 – more than four per cent – were Albanian, figures show.

Bosses told the paper there had been an ‘alarming increase’ in illegal migrants looking for referrals, which would then mean they avoid detention, slow down deportation and in some cases escape removal altogether.

Police discover a huge cannabis farm in Middlesbrough. There are growing concerns that Albanians are posing as victims to avoid prosecution

Police bust a large scale cannabis farm on Station Road in Redcar (Image: Cleveland Police)

Armelind Rexha (pictured) arrived in Britain on a student visa and claimed he was forced to grow the drugs after a crop worth some £672,000 was discovered

Police chiefs have seen a significant rise in western Balkans using the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in recent years – a tool used to highlight potential cases where people may have been exploited. 

In around nine out of ten cases, claimants can find themselves safe from removal for around a year.

This is because they are protected as soon as the authorities decide there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe they could be a modern slavery victim, all the way until a final decision is made, which is rarely rubber-stamped in less than 12 months.

As a result, Home Secretary Priti Patel is now overseeing plans to roll out a new ‘public order’ definition, which would allow police chiefs to refuse NRM protections to those committing serious crimes or threatening national security.

Government guidance says: ‘Victims may not be aware that they are being trafficked or exploited, and may have consented to elements of their exploitation, or accepted their situation. 

‘If you think that modern slavery has taken place, the case should be referred to the NRM so that the Single Competent Authority (SCA) can fully consider the case. 

‘You do not need to be certain that someone is a victim.’

In around nine out of ten cases, claimants can find themselves safe from removal for around a year.

This is because they are protected as soon as the authorities decide there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe they could be a modern slavery victim, all the way until a final decision is made, which is rarely rubber-stamped in less than 12 months.

As a result, Home Secretary Priti Patel is now overseeing plans to roll out a new ‘public order’ definition, which would allow police chiefs to refuse NRM protections to those committing serious crimes or threatening national security.

It comes amid a trend of criminal bosses illegally smuggling specialist ‘gardeners’ into the UK and protecting them by setting them up in booby trapped warehouses and buildings.

Barbed-wire mesh surrounds the perimeter of the farms while intruders risk injury using staircases rigged with missing steps and false floors. 

In Middlesbrough, police are currently raiding cannabis farms on a monthly basis and finding a large number of suspects are Albanian. 

One such example is that of Armelind Rexha, who arrived in Britain on a student visa and claimed he was forced to grow the drugs after a crop worth some £672,000 was discovered.

Police in Derbyshire are also spotting a trend of Albanians arrested in drugs busts frequently claiming to be victims of slavery.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Kirby told the Times: ‘There’s no doubt that it’s a well-known tactic,

‘You’ve got to imagine that these very well-organised criminal groups will be smart enough to say, ‘All right, this is what we do then — everybody, this is what you say.’ ‘

However, Dame Sara Thornton, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, called for police to continue to consider whether suspects could be a victim, even amid reports of dubious claims.

She said: ‘It is vital that there is a thorough investigation at the earliest stages so that victims are identified and organised criminals thwarted.’ 

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