Five days after being smuggled into the UK in a lorry, Albanian Iva Memaj dialled the Home Office’s freephone number to claim asylum.
“I feel very excited for my future,” she told us.
“I feel safe here.”
Iva said she ran from the lorry when it got to England, hid and was then picked up by a friend. She said the Romanian driver never got the £18,000 he was expecting.
Now she’s trying to register her arrival with the Home Office on its dedicated hotline – entering a system which she knows could take years to process her application.
But she believes it will be worth the wait, telling us life in Albania is intolerable.
I asked Iva, 31, who was a stockbroker in Albania, why she would make such a dangerous journey in the back of a lorry.
She said: “It doesn’t make sense. But when you look at Albania and the opportunities it gives to young people it will make sense.
“I just want to live in a happy environment. I just want to live in a safe environment. I want to live in a society that is well-structured and well-organised. I don’t want to live in chaos anymore.”
‘See us as worthy people’
Iva is part of what Home Secretary Suella Braverman has called “an invasion” of migrants, with the numbers coming from Albania soaring.
The vast majority travel by small boat, paying smugglers to get them across the channel – like Iva’s friend, 26-year-old Denis Arapi, who is also from Albania.
Iva and Denis, who say they are both university educated, told us they want to speak to Sky News because of the “stigma” surrounding Albanian asylum seekers.
‘”Why see migrants as a problem,” Denis said. “Start to see us as worthy people.”
The British government said Albania is a safe country and too many asylum seekers are abusing the system claiming to be the victims of modern slavery.
It has also pledged to break the “business model” of the smugglers.
How people smugglers recruit
Denis gave us a rare insight into how the smugglers persuade people to join their criminal gangs in the UK.
Denis, who worked in a private hospital as a co-ordinator in Albania, said when he crossed the channel in July – he spoke to other Albanians on the boat and half of them planned to claim asylum but get cash-in-hand work in the construction industry whilst they waited for their claims to be processed.
He claims a quarter – the younger men on the boat – said they would connect with the criminal gangs who smuggled them on arrival in the UK and disappear from the asylum system.
Denis said: “They (the smugglers) know the system is broken and they use this as a strong point to convince people to do this.
“They say ‘you’ll never get asylum papers’. They say ‘you’ll never be integrated into society’. They say ‘There are cases which have been going on for more than three years and they don’t get a work permit.’ They tell you this. They convince you that you come here and you can’t do anything else (except join the gangs).”
The UK authorities say of the more than 12,000 Albanians who’ve arrived in the UK so far this year, about 10,000 are single, adult men.
Too difficult to get a visa
Denis said it’s too difficult to get a visa to come to the UK: “Seeking asylum is the only option to be here.”
He said without money in your bank account, you can’t get a visa.
“I was expecting, when I arrived, the asylum system in Britain would evaluate the migrant.”
Iva said: “I want to do legal stuff here. I’m a decent person. I can be integrated in society.
“I chose the right way to live my life. Albanians have a bad reputation about it, but I’m one of the Albanians who is not part of the smuggling society, and I wouldn’t like to choose that road.”