From: Alice Taylor
Analysis: Albanian Asylum Applications Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Albania has joined the “10 main nationalities applying for international protection in the EU, for the first time in two years,” according to the European office for statistics.

More than 1,400 Albanians sought asylum in EU member states in August 2021, a 46% increase compared to July and more than double that of June, reverting to a pre-pandemic trend, according to EU data. This comes as reducing unfounded asylum cases is one of the conditions for EU accession that the Commission claims Albania has met.

Nearly 300 were given asylum or subsidiary protection in 2021.

Numbers were higher than in the months just before the pandemic, where 1124 were lodged in February 2020 and 1122 in January 2020. In December 2019, there were 1532, and in November 1672, current figures are reverting to the halted trend due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Out of August’s applications, 1,200 were first time applications, and some 230 were re-applications. Albania had more asylum applications in August than Ukraine, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina combined. It was the fourth-largest contributor of asylum applications to EU countries from the European continent. Turkey was first with 3,066, followed by Georgia with 1,524, and Moldova with 1,524.

283 Albanians have been granted refugee status, or subsidiary protection in the EU since January 2021, despite Albania being considered a “safe” country of origin. Meanwhile, more than 3500 cases are still pending an outcome.

Almost a quarter of a million Albanians have sought asylum in an EU member state between 2008 and 2021, not including the UK, which would make the total even higher.

Numbers decreased slightly in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the numbers have crept back since travel restrictions have been scaled back.

While Albania is considered a “safe place”, 10% of applications are accepted as founded. Furthermore, between 2008 and 2020, more than 700,000 Albanians received a residence permit in the EU.

According to various reports carried out in-country, common reasons for applying for asylum include lack of jobs, low wages, corruption, and a weak rule of law. Many also seek asylum due to ‘blood feuds’, a form of revenge killing, involvement in organised crime, has been the victim of crimes such as trafficking and even political persecution.

A worrying trend has also been detected in terms of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Some 60,000 are believed to have left in the country, and local child’s-rights NGOs have called for a parliamentary inquiry to establish their whereabouts.

As for applications in the UK, almost 7000 Albanians applied for asylum in 2020 alone.

An expert country witness for Albania for the UK Home Office told EURACTIV and that common reasons for application include sex trafficking, women fleeing planned marriages, severe domestic violence, loan sharks, police mistreatment and “attacks due to political affiliation.” They said around one third were successful.

Reducing asylum applications is a condition for opening the first intergovernmental conference, which marks the official start of EU accession negotiations. 

The October 2021 progress report noted that the number of applications was decreasing along with the recognition rate. They state that the condition has been met and that they are “monitoring the trend very closely” and “substantial efforts” are still needed.

A sharp increase in asylum numbers suggests that the situation requires more work and monitoring before progress can be declared. As for Albania’s EU accession path, Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen said the next intergovernmental conference could be held by year-end. However, this seems unlikely due to disquiet among EU member states and the veto from Bulgaria over North Macedonia, which is unlikely to be lifted by then.