Prime Minister Edi Rama seems to be attempting to, once again, secure Western support for his government by volunteering to withstand dangers and costs in order to assist with Western countries’ own internal problems.
During a meeting with Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz two weeks ago, Rama volunteered, on behalf of Albania, to solve the problem of keeping refugees and immigrant from Africa and the Middle East away from the gates of Europe. Rama attempted something similar before, when he volunteered to the disassembly of Syrian chemical weapons, a project that was only halted after wide popular opposition. He was more successful when he agreed to shelter the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian resistance group of about 3000 fighters.
This time, we are talking about accepting illegal immigrants, expelled by EU Member States. Illegal immigration is a poignant problem for the EU. Some Member States refuse to accept any immigrants, whereas others are being pressured to expel the ones they have accepted so far. Under these conditions, one of the options being discussed is Austria’s proposal, which is also supported in principle by Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, to establish several large camps outside of the EU, to shelter all illegal immigrants that will be expelled by EU Member States.
It is precisely the idea of Albania being considered as a possible site for such a camp that Rama offered to Kurz during their meeting in Vienna at the end of the month.
Setting up camps in a country outside the EU has been part of Kurz’s policy for halting illegal immigration into the EU. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kurz does not only intend to close the borders for illegal immigrants who attempt to enter the EU through the Mediterranean, but is also planning on creating reception centers for immigrants who are expelled from EU countries.
When asked about the project, Kurz has stated: “We suggested a long time ago that it would make sense to offer protection outside of the European Union where [migrants] get protection where it is necessary but do not have the opportunity to pick the best system in Europe.”
According to Danish leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the location sites for these camps must be in “a country that isn’t on the migrants’ or the human traffickers’ list of preferred destinations, a not particularly attractive country.”
A concrete draft proposal of this solution will be presented for discussion to the European Council in their next meeting at the end of June.
The most likely Europeans countries not part of the EU to host these camps, based on their geographic location, are the Western Balkans countries: Albania, Macedonia, Kosova, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia.
It seems Prime Minister Rama is in a hurry to make sure that Albania will be a location site for the camps, as a political maneuver to retain EU support for his government, after the prominent drug and crime problems the latter has brought about.
This attempt is clear in his declarations during the joint press conference with Kurz, on May 30:
In this collaboration, we are willing to make available all our capacities, to ensure, on the one hand, border safety, and on the other, treating all people with dignity. So, in this aspect, I echo the Chancellor in saying that I believe we have all the possibilities and I believe we have the right plan to prevent a rerun of 2015, something that would be devastating for all of us.
To justify this willingness before the Albanian and foreign public, Rama attempted to dress up the problem of illegal immigration as an Albanian problem. He inflated the numbers of illegal immigrants who have entered Albania, most of whom were using the country as a transit to move on elsewhere, in order to create the illusion of Albania, as a new country, is in danger of being overrun with illegal immigrants.
From Austria, Rama declared that between January and May, 2018, 2,311 illegal immigrants had entered Albania:
To form a clear idea of what concerns us, and for what reasons we have turned, for a few weeks, to our friends here in Austria, to form a collaboration now, without waiting for things to go as far as they did in 2015: if between January and May of the previous year, we have had 162 illegal immigrants, this year, between January and May, their number is 2,311.
However, this figure appears to be off when compared to statistics by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the central institution that gathers data on immigration for every country. According to IOM, from January to May, 2018, 6,700 new illegal immigrants have entered the EU, via Greece, through Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Out of those, more than two thirds, that is around 4,227 people, have been registered in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1,362 in Montenegro, and only 1,180 in Albania.
The Prime Minister’s figure is twice as high as the one reported by IOM, while Albania is currently the country with the lowest number of registered immigrants in the region.
Rama’s attempts to transform Albania into a host country for illegal immigrants threaten to worsen the state of public safety in the country.
Albania has high rates of organized crime, especially drugs and human trafficking.
According to international reports, Albania is a source and transit country for human trafficking; the largest producer and supplier of marijuana in Europe, a distribution point for EU heroin, and a main transit point for EU cocaine, as well as an operational base for organized crime in the Balkans.
The Albanian police force is weak and still suffering the consequences of numerous scandals concerning their leaders collaborating with drug trafficking organizations. According to the latest U.S. Department of State report, “Albania does not have a strong police presence that can ensure law and order in the country and the safety of its citizens.”
On the other hand, illegal immigration from Albania has become a problem for EU Member States. The governments of several EU Member States, including the Netherlands, have threatened to bring back the visa regime.
This not only means that Albania will be forced to bear a lot of risk in hosting illegal immigrants, as sheltering them will destabilize the delicate state of the country’s public safety. Furthermore, the worsening of this delicate state will affect the country’s integration into the EU, seeing as the fight against crime and corruption is a key condition in opening accession negotiations.