Albania has made British headlines for all the wrong reasons over the weekend. Several tabloids have run stories over the many immigrants trying to enter the country illegally.
According to information apparently ‘leaked’ to the Daily Mail, four out of ten people illegally crossing the Channel are Albanian. This has led to questions about why the number is so high from a safe country that is not at war.
Reports in the media noted that almost three times as many Albanian immigrants are trying to enter the country compared to other countries of origin. The information was immediately weaponised by politicians seeking to debunk the rhetoric that immigrants are those fleeing war-torn countries.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, told the Mail on Sunday: “This is proof positive that the threat we face is not an asylum issue, it’s an economical migration issue, which is leading these traffickers to abuse the asylum system. This simply cannot be tolerated.”
He added, “This is absolutely clear evidence – in the face of all those on the liberal left who cry for us to let anyone in – that this is an economic issue and, as such, it is desperate that we get on with the Rwanda programme.”
The Rwanda programme is an initiative of the British government to send those applying for asylum or appealing decisions to Rwanda. The first planeload of migrants was prevented from taking off at the last moment by a decision by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year.
Before the plan was formally announced, it was rumoured in the same Albanian media that Albania would be the location for such an initiative, something vehemently denied by the Albanian government.
However, the plan, designed as a deterrent to migrants, has been unsuccessful as Ministry of Defence figures show that of the 18,000 people who have already made the crossing this year, 12,840 people did so after Priti Patel announced the Rwanda deal on 14 April.
The report reveals that 1,075 Albanians made up 37.5% of the 2,863 people who crossed in the six weeks between 1 June and 12 July. They were followed by Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians.
Fuelling the fire was Top Channel journalist Muhamed Veliu who gave an interview to notorious right-wing and anti-immigrant ex-politician and Brexiteer Nigel Farage.
The former-UKIP leader is known for his anti-EU views, links to the “Pizzagate conspiracy”, a condemner of George Soros, and has been accused of antisemitism, being anti LGBT and pro-conversion therapy, sexist comments, Islamaphobia, praising Putin, and banning HIV positive people from entering the UK, as well as being involved in several expenses scandals.
In the interview, Veliu talked about why immigrants are trying to reach the UK, blaming it on people from the country’s north.
“Most of the people who are getting from Albania to the UK on the boats are from northern Albania. A place without the possibility of employment. And another reason why people from northern Albania are choosing to put their lives in danger getting on boats making that trip to the UK is that in 1998 thousands of Albanians from northern Albanian came as migrants to the UK, and now other members of the family are getting in this way to the UK.”
He mentioned that Kurdish individuals coordinate the trafficking, something Exit revealed in an investigation in 2020.
Within days, the British media published many articles on Albania, questioning why a “safe country” that is not at war is responsible for four in ten migrants crossing the channel. The prevalence of this rhetoric in right-wing tabloids with huge readership sparks fears of xenophobia against Albanians from British citizens.
One Twitter user spoke out and said that he was called a “f*cking foreigner” for the first time in his 23 legal years in the UK, just this week.
But the problems with migration from Albania are not just limited to the UK. Thousands seek asylum in EU countries every month, with 2000 applying in January and February 2022 alone.
. While most are sent back, several hundred receive asylum or other forms of protection. As Albania aspires to join the EU, it is supposed to reduce the number of unfounded asylum applications, and while numbers are not as high as they were a few years ago, the root cause of the issue is yet to be tackled.
The figures published by Eurostat show that the number doubled when compared with 2021 but still remains around 20% less than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
France remains the number one preferred destination, receiving more than half of all applications. This is due to favourable conditions for those applying for asylum. The number of applications increased by 130% in the first two months of 2022 when compared with the same period the month before.
Germany is the second most popular country, with 24% of the total- tripling when compared to 2021.
Italy and Greece now rank in third and fourth place, respectively.
Common reasons for being granted asylum include fleeing organised crime, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and even, in the case of Agron Tufa in 2020, political persecution.
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 circumstances 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 return her to her family,” they said, adding this had happened in several cases.