Albanian ghost town where so many men have left for UK only old people are left

Ramiz breaks down in tears at the memory of his son leaving to work in London. 

Shaking between sobs, the dad explains he feels responsible for the young man’s departure from the Albanian town of Kukes.

A stroke left Ramiz unable to work and, with no food on the table, his son decided to make the 1,700-mile trip to Britain in a bid to support him.  

“All of the Kukes younger generation are going to London right now, they say London is great for money,” he told the Daily Express. “There are a lot of fathers like me, especially in the villages.”

He worries about his son who spent three months in immigration detention and, when he was released, ended up washing cars.

Money is sent home to his father, but it is not a lot, far from the riches flaunted by some of the migrants who have returned to the town from the UK. 

Spend just a few minutes on Kukes’s main street and a car with a British licence plate will almost certainly whizz by. Most of the vehicles are brand new, expensive Mercedes and BMWs.

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The contrast to the plight of those who choose to stay couldn’t be more stark. In the fields around Kukes women plough the earth with hand ploughs, panting clouds of condensation into the freezing mountain air. 

Homes closer to the mountains have been abandoned entirely. The most intact structures now house livestock with the rest collapsing slowly into the earth.

According to Sadije Cenaj, another resident of a nearby village, the money earned by her nephews in London saved her life.

“Without them I would be dead,” she told us from her sick bed, proudly holding their picture. “They pay my medical bills. I have diabetes.”

Her home is surrounded by properties that have been enhanced by the riches earned from Britain, but remain for most of the year empty.

The owners return only in August for a brief holiday. Since 1990 the population of the region has almost halved due to migration, with the majority of those seeking to leave identifying the UK as their destination of choice.

“It’s the worst thing that can happen,” said Osman, another resident of the same village. “When all the younger generation goes abroad to England. How can we survive and live here? I don’t know how people like us will manage, we are old.” 

Osman has two middle-aged children in the UK, a daughter who lives in Cardiff and a son in London.

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“Eighty per cent of the families have at least one child in England,” he added. “My son, who is living in London for the moment, he doesn’t have a job. Even though he’s been working there for nine years. He’s not good at all.” 

Osman believes the realities of life in the UK do not match the myths young people in rural Albania are being sold. Despite spending so much time abroad, his boy has scarcely been able to improve life for his dad.

“My son tried to help me and he sent me some pocket money, but not a lot like how people say on the media whatsoever,” he said.

“People go because here they don’t have food on the table and, secondly, because they dream a lot. They think that life will change if they go to England.

“My son has been there for nearly 10 years and he can’t come back because he doesn’t have the documents [to be able to leave the UK]. So this is something risky and not good for his life.”

Additional reporting by Eraldo Harlicaj

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