Between 2010 and September 2019, some 193,000 Albanian citizens applied for asylum in EU countries. The phenomenon peaked in 2015 when 67,000 Albanians applied for asylum that year alone. Acceptance rates are low, but still, many Albanians apply for asylum every month. Albania is in fact, fourth in the world and the first in Europe for asylum applications.
A report entitled “Albanian returned asylum seekers: Reintegration or re-emigration” conducted by Ilir Gedeshi from the Centre for Economic and Social Studies and Russell King Professor of Geography at the University of Sussex in the UK, takes a look at why people leave and what the prospects are when they return.
Almost 65% of those surveyed said they do not have sufficient funds to meet the needs of daily life. Most rely on the work of family members and social assistance to survive. One interviewee said, “We are five members in our family and we live only on our father’s pension that is 16,000 ALL (EUR 129) a month. My wife and I are unemployed.”
More than a third of those surveyed said they were long-term unemployed and 34% of those that do work, carry out unskilled work in the informal sector.
Most of the return asylum seekers are younger and have elderly family members that depend on them. Most are married but often the man will go first with the intention that the wife and children will follow later. It was found that family separation like this causes a high level of emotional stress, especially with women and children.
As for the question “why asylum?” This is due to poverty and social exclusion as well as unemployment. According to the interviews conducted for the study, those seeking asylum want better employment opportunities and income earning potential. They also hope for accommodation, food, professional training, and work contracts.
In terms of economic conditions, people left due to poverty, unemployment, underemployment, low wages, difficult living conditions, limited social protection, and lack of education opportunities.
Genc from Kamza told researchers:
“The main reason why we went to Germany was the economic condition. Both my wife and I are unemployed. We also went there for a better future for our children. A man thinks about what is best for the children. (…) All these drive you. Unemployment and a better future. When you see that the prospects here are zero, you want to do what is best. We tried for better.”
Some women also highlighted a lack of childcare options that limited their work opportunities.
“In our town, there are no jobs for women. There are some opportunities in [nearby] Elbasan. But it is difficult for the women to go there because we have no nurseries and kindergartens do not offer full-day care in Cërrik. Besides, they are often obliged to work overtime and spend a lot of time travelling. Who, then, will take care of the children?”
All of those surveyed said if they had a stable job in the formal sector and adequate income to meet the basic needs of daily life, they would not leave the country.
Another factor driving asylum seekers was the lack of proper healthcare. One woman explained that she could not get proper treatment for her autistic child in Albania. She wanted to leave so they could have proper care in Germany. Others said that due to conditions such as Cancer and the inability to get the proper medication in Albania, they decided to leave for the EU.
Some Roma respondents said that they left due to problems with housing and state demolition of their homes. Other members of the community said they were leaving due to discrimination, lack of help from the police, refusal of healthcare and various other issues.
Blood feuds were also another reason for leaving. While the government tries to deny their prevalence, they still impact around 3000 families in the country. One woman explained she applied for asylum in Germany because her husband (currently incarcerated) is the target of revenge. Her 14-year-old son is also at risk so she chose to leave.
For those that return, while social integration may be easy, more than half struggle to find work. While many will register with employment offices, a lack of jobs means there is little success and even then, the wages are very low.
One respondent said:
“After I returned, I went to the employment office and they told me they would call me. I went there five more times but no calls so far. They do not give me economic assistance because they say I can work. However, I have four children to feed. The only source of income for me is occasional work in the informal sector. If I find work, I bring bread home; if I don’t find work, I have nothing to bring home.”
Others expressed their displeasure with the inefficiency and poor behaviour of the civil service, notably in the aforementioned employment offices. Roma find it even harder to get jobs, despite having university diplomas.