Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has not minced his words when it comes to Albania-UK relations, stating the country is having “a nervous breakdown” over its failure to get a grip on immigration.
Relations between the two countries soured at the end of 2022 when an influx of Albanian migrants was referred to as an “invasion” by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Rama said this weekend that the UK was in a “bad, bad place” and as a result, they have sought to shift attention to Albania in order to take attention away from their failures.
He accused the “poor Brits” of going after Albanians to “make them feel like they have the muscle still”. Despite this, Rama said he has great respect for Britain, its history and culture and he will “bear with them” until they overcome the situation.
UK ministers are facing a situation where there is a backlog of 140,000 asylum cases with more than 50,000 being kept in hotels at a cost of £7 million a day.
It also came to light that the authorities had lost more than 200 asylum-seeking children, over 170 of which were Albanian. Not only did they admit to not knowing where they were, but they also had not notified Tirana of the situation.
Britain has signed two agreements with Albania in the last year to try and stem the surge of Albanians travelling to the country across The Channel, via boat. Just 29 Albanians crossed The Channel by boat during the first three months of 2023, a stark contrast to the 12,310 that made the journey in 2022.
A total of 1,109 Albanians were recorded crossing via boat during the last three months of 2022, meaning the number for the first quarter of this year shows a significant decrease. In addition, around 1,000 irregular migrants have been returned to Albania since UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to stop the boats and made it one of his top priorities for 2023.
A communique sent by the British Embassy in Tirana to EURACTIV said that this figure combines failed asylum seekers, foreign national offenders, and voluntary returns.
UK and Albanian operational teams have set up a joint migration task force, which serves as the main gateway to coordinate specialised operational measures and actions to manage illegal migration of Albanian citizens to the UK, the statement continues.
While Sunak and his supporters may believe his policies and hardline approach have a part to play, others say bad weather has had a part to play along with trafficking gangs fearing consequences due to increased attention on their activities.
Many Albanians travelling to the UK did so after purchasing the trip via social media. Organised crime gangs advertised crossings to the UK for upwards of GBP 2000 with promises of work and a better life at the other end.
Around half of all those seeking asylum in the UK are granted, with a further half being granted on appeal, despite Albania being a safe country of origin with no internal or external conflicts.
Unfortunately, many who made the trip ended up in asylum hotels or camps or working in the black market to pay back their debts to traffickers.
At the time of the Autumn 2022 crackdown on Albanians, the ruling Conservative Party was facing historic lows in popularity polls and was reeling from the departure of former prime minister Boris Johnson, followed by Liz Truss, and then the arrival of current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
But, by January, the situation was tense once again as Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick posted a video stating the government is working to “find the Albanians, detain them, to take them to the airport and get back to Tirana” for “gaming the system” and adding they included “dangerous criminals.”
Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka reacted with shock, stating Jenrick was using such language in return for votes.
Meanwhile, the number of Albanian asylum seekers in the EU dropped significantly during the first two months of 2023, according to data from Eurostat
Between January and February 2023, 1,675 Albanians sought asylum in one EU member state, a decrease of 14% in the same period in 2022.
In total, 13,600 Albanians applied in the bloc during 2022, the highest level since 2020, while almost 16,000 made requests in the UK.
(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)
More on the same topic…
Czech FM: Ukraine EU accession talks could start this year