Teachers in the small village of Gostil, in northern Albania, have a problem; their classes are shrinking. Concrete communist-era buildings which were once home to a single school now accommodate several downsized institutions.
The reason is simple: the young people are all going to Britain. Boys make plans to leave the mountains south of the Kosovan border before their voices have broken or they have fluff under their nose to shave.
“Only the small kids think [about] living here, the older ones want to leave,” a 13-year-old from Gostil told the Daily Express. “I will go to England when I am 16. My relatives told me when you are under 18 it is better because the state will help you because you are not a grown-up.”
The teenager has a dozen relatives living and working in Britain, a number which is by no means the largest. His classmate and best friend has 16.
It’s easy to see why the boys are tempted to make the trip, the spoils of those who’ve made it are everywhere in Gostil.
“My uncle built a house and he also bought an Audi Q7 [worth £67,000],” said the boy’s best friend, flashing the latest iPhone a relative from Britain gave him.
“I would like to have these kinds of things, beautiful things, and I don’t have any possibility if I stay.”
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This is the material evidence which supports the many displays of wealth from UK migrants on TikTok and Instagram. The boys’ news feeds are filled daily with videos of Albanians who’ve gone to Britain driving expensive cars or “flexing” designer tracksuits and watches.
The boys are already aware that passage to the UK will involve the potentially fatal journey across the Channel on a small boat.
They worried about teenage relatives who’d made the trip, but remain undeterred by the dangers.
“They told us ‘we can’t stay here anymore and must go there’ before they went,” the boy added.
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Their teenage relatives are in regular contact with the boys in Gostil updating them on life in facilities for migrants.
“They’ve been living there for two years, until they are 18 years old, in camps only for kids. It’s better for them and the state takes care of their education,” the youngster added.
The 13-year-old is already learning English in anticipation of his journey to the UK.
He is totally unfazed by the estimated £4,000 cost of the trip. “I have relatives there,” he explained. “They can sort it.”
Additional reporting by Eraldo Harlicaj
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