From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Asylum Applications in Europe Soar in 2021

Following a period of growth over the summer, the number of asylum applications declined in October and November, but still remain higher than before the pandemic.

As per data published by the European Union Asylum Agency, 1121 asylum applications were lodged by Albanians in EU member states in November. This is almost half of those in September when more than 2000 made an application.

Over the course of January to November, more than 10,000 asylum applications were filed, an increase of 66% compared to the same period in the previous year. Albania holds the record for the nation with the most asylum seekers in the region.

According to EUAA, in November 1001 Macedonians, 405 Serbians, 349 Bosnians, 77 Montenegrins and over 200 Kosovo Albanians applied for asylum in the EU.

Last week, the EU’s border guards sent 50 Albanians home to Tirana in the first flight organised by the agency.

“The agency was responsible for setting the timeframe, the operational procedures and, through the EU Delegation in Albania and the Frontex Liaison Officer, to contact the Albanian authorities. At the same time, the excellent cooperation with Spanish and Italian authorities ensured the success of the flight,” the agency notes.

Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said, “The excellent cooperation with the Republic of Albania but also with Spain and Italy has significantly contributed to the success of this operation.”

Albania has been consistently asked to step up efforts against “illegal immigration and unfounded asylum seekers”. The European Commission’s third report assessing compliance with pre-accession criteria, published in July 2020, said the government should seek to understand why so many citizens are attempting to leave the country.

The European Commssion has repeatedly refused to address the question of why people are seeking asylum in Europe. Several hundred asylum requests are granted to Albanians every year in Europe and the UK.

Exit spoke to an expert country witness who provided information on Albania to the UK Home Office and in court cases for more than 20 years. They described the numbers and reasons why Albanians are applying for asylum abroad.

“I see shifts in numbers and reasons for asylum claims. In the 90s, it was those fleeing blood feuds. They have decreased gradually over the years, but I still saw 10 such cases in 2020. Trafficking of women, those fleeing planned marriages, and being trafficked into prostitution is the category with the most cases. About one third were successful in claiming asylum.”

They continued, “There are many other reasons I have seen for seeking asylum; severe domestic violence, specialist health issues, fleeing loan sharks, police mistreatment, and attacks due to political affiliation,” they added.

When asked if they felt these claims were founded or unfounded, they explained that by the time cases reached them, they had been intensively questioned, and more dubious cases had been weeded out.

“I just supply the missing link due to cultural misunderstanding, for example, why didn’t a woman, forced to marry someone against her will, report to the police? It has to be spelt out in court that such a woman has usually had minimal education, has NO idea of her rights, in any case, her family would prevent her, and that anyway the police would not take her seriously, and just return her to her family,” they said, adding this had happened in several cases.

Analysis: The Albanian Problem of Asylum

During an interview at Exit’s partner EURACTIV’s offices in Brussels on Wednesday 8 December with Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, Exit asked, “Do you not think attention should be paid as to the reason why these people are applying and being accepted? Why are there founded cases of asylum coming from a potential EU member state? What is being done to figure out what is driving thousands of people to seek asylum?”

Margaritis did not answer the question specifically and said that Albania is monitoring the situation. He then said, “you are taking from the Albanian perspective, but you are raising a broader issue of migration flows to Europe. The main reason for having irregular migration flows is that we have not yet reached an agreement on an EU act for migration and asylum. This. is the biggest pull factor for smugglers to try to go through our cracks.”

Exit reminded Schinas that they were asking about the Albanian issue of founded migration and not the migration crisis taking place along the borders with Belarus.

Again, Margaritis refused to be drawn. He said, “yes, but I will tell you why this [an EU migration pact] would help Albania because the fact of not having such a system where everything connects to everything else produces everything that we don’t like, such as irregular flows going through the mountains.”

“Man boats are coming here from there and all sorts of international smuggling networks, very sophisticated operations that push people this way or that way. Good agreements with countries of origin and transit, solid and robust management for external border asylum procedures…then I can guarantee that you will see very few people.”

This issue has been raised by Exit to the Commission previously. Once again, they could not give any examples of what is or should be done to get to the root of the issue regarding founded asylum cases in the EU and UK.