SCMP Thursday, June 22, 2000

EUROPE TODAY

For many, almost any risk seems worth it

SIMON MACKLIN


Many illegal immigrants are prepared to run almost any risk to find a new home in affluent European countries.

"I knew it would be dangerous and there would be trouble if I was caught but it was something I decided to do," said Artan, who arrived in Britain earlier this year.

The 23-year-old from a wealthy family in northern Albania near the Kosovo border decided to come to England as he had no work prospects in his home town.

He picked up casual work as an interpreter for a British journalist during the Nato war against Yugoslavia but afterwards was unable to find a job.

"Many of my classmates had already left for Spain or Germany but I decided to go to see if I could get into England as I could speak the language," he said.

Despite his parents' objections, Artan contacted an uncle already living in the UK who sent him money to pay for his illegal migration and told him how to get in touch with a gang that helped arrange for his trip. Many criminals in Albania have links with the Italian mafia, and Artan contacted one group who helped him on the first stage of his trip by getting him into Italy by boat.

"It was very easy. Everyone in Albania knows how to contact the mafia and there are hundreds of different ways of getting across the sea into Italy," he said.

Once in Italy he wasted little time in getting a train to take him to France.

"When the train crossed the border into France, some police came along to check people's papers. I pretended to be asleep but I think they knew what I was doing and shook me saying they wanted to look at my passport," Artan said. "I had been told the French police would allow me through if I paid them a bribe, so I gave them US$200 (HK$1,560) and they left me alone.

Once in Paris Artan took another train to Brussels, where he stayed with a relative who had emigrated to Belgium several years ago.

While waiting for his relative to arrange for him to travel to the UK he made a short trip to Amsterdam to see some friends.

His relative paid the traffickers, and he was put on a truck that took him by ferry across the English Channel to the UK.

"There were about six or seven other guys on the truck from Kosovo," he said. "I did not talk to them and we all stayed silent during the trip. We did not know where we were but I had been told to wait until the truck stopped before getting out."

After about 18 hours the vehicle stopped at a service station, and Artan said he slit the tarpaulin cover of the truck and climbed out to find himself in the town of Stoke in the North of England.

He walked to the train station and caught a train to London, where he phoned some friends who came to meet him.

"I have applied for asylum here as a refugee and hope I can stay in England and maybe study to be an electrician. A lot of other Albanians pretend they are from Kosovo, but I have told the truth. I know I came here illegally, but I want to do everything legally now," he said.