The number of asylum seekers from Albania heading to British shores has increased dramatically in recent years, and it has prompted the UK Government to target nationals from the Balkan state in its measures to tackle Channel crossings.
The Government is expected to unveil plans on Tuesday to make asylum claims inadmissible from those who cross the channel to the UK, with migrants removed to a third country and banned from returning or claiming citizenship.
It comes after ministers pledged to quickly process and repatriate the large number of Albanians who cross the English Channel in small boats.
MPs have previously singled out Albanian nationals crossing the Channel, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman commenting late last year that there was a “surge in the number of Albanian arrivals” and they were generally young, single men who were either part of organised criminal gangs or involved in criminal activity such as drugs.
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama hit back at those comments, saying in November last year that the UK was falsely targeting Albanians “as the cause of its crime and border problems” and attacked what he called the “insane” and “easy rhetoric”.
How many asylum seekers in the UK are Albanian?
Albanian was the most common nationality applying for asylum in the UK last year, according to figures released by the Home Office last month.
There were 14,223 applications by Albanian asylum seekers in 2022, and 9,573 of these came from people arriving in boats after crossing the Channel. The majority of applicants from Albania – 83 per cent, or 11,832 – were adult males.
It is a sharp increase on previous years, when about 800 Albanians arrived in the UK in small boats in 2021, and 50 the year before.
In December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to fast-track the removal of Albanian migrants under measures to tighten modern slavery laws.
He announced a new agreement with the Albanian government aimed at preventing people migrating from the country to the UK, which will include stationing UK Border Force officials in Tirana to disrupt criminal gangs.
Why are people leaving Albania?
More than half of migrants who claimed to be victims of modern slavery after crossing the Channel in the first half of last year were Albanian, Home Office figures suggest.
Of the 1,156 people recorded as making such a claim between January and June 2022, 591 were Albanian, according to figures provided by the department following a freedom of information request from campaign group Migration Watch.
The number of Albanians who said they were modern slavery victims in the first six months of 2022 is more than double the figure for the whole of 2021, according to the figures published in January.
Migration Watch chairman Alp Mehmet said at the time that Albanians “and their traffickers have identified a huge loophole in our legislation and are exploiting it to the hilt”.
However, Mark Davies, from the Refugee Council, warned it was “dangerous to assume all Albanians are falsifying modern slavery claims”.
He said every case should be “given a fair assessment”, adding: “The situation with people from Albania crossing the Channel is complex.
“We know from our work that trafficking and exploitation are a problem for many from the country.”
Dr Andi Hoxhaj, a lecturer in law from University College London, told a home affairs select committee inquiry on Albania that there was 60 per cent youth unemployment among 18- to 34-year-olds in the country as he warned of problems with blood feuds, corruption and gang violence. He added that one third of people in Albania live below the poverty line.
He said his research has shown that in at least 40 per cent of cases people leave for economic opportunities, while another 40 per cent leave for their wellbeing and access to judiciary, and the rest to join family members.
When asked whether Albania is a safe country, he said it’s not a “clear cut case”, saying there could be vulnerable groups, namely women and LGBT people, that could become victims.
Mr Sunak has insisted that Albania is a “safe, prosperous European country” and that most asylum claims from its citizens are unfounded. He said new guidance would be issued to immigration caseworkers to make it “crystal clear that Albania is a safe country”.