Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs gave an interview to Exit following her recent visit to Albania and the region, to assess the situation in terms of migration, trafficking, and other issues such as asylum.
The issue of people smuggling through Albania has increased during 2020 what do you think has caused this increase?
Fighting smuggling is one of the priorities of EU-Western Balkans migration cooperation, as discussed at the VTC with Ministers of Interior last year.
Europol has a key role to support partners in the Western Balkans, including Albania where it has a presence. In addition, the Joint Operational Office in Vienna serves as a regional operational platform for international investigations into migrant smuggling organized crime groups.
I welcome the engagement of the Albanian authorities in the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (“EMPACT”) and the appointment of a National Contact Point for EMPACT. I also encourage Albania to fully participate in EMPACT. I consider this as the right platform for cooperation between the Member States and the Western Balkans to fight crime together.
GRETA recently published a report on Albania and in an interview with Exit, an executive said that women and girls who have been trafficked should not necessarily be returned to Albania due to a number of risks, what is your position on this?
The European Commission will present on 14 April, a new EU Strategy on combating trafficking in human beings 2021-2025. It is closely linked to the EU Strategy to tackle organized crime for the same period. The new anti-trafficking strategy, addressing also the international aspect including the Western Balkans region, will propose measures to address the assistance and protection and empowerment of victims, propose measures of prevention and for breaking the criminal business model and fighting the impunity of the perpetrators.
Over the years, the EU has funded trans-national referral projects to help the voluntary return of victims to their home country. The needs of victims, their age, their specific circumstances, the forms of exploitation to which they were subjected, is an assessment that authorities and civil society involved in the return process need to take into account. The EU approach encourages an individual risk assessment to protect victims from retaliation and intimidation, as well as from the risk of being re-trafficked.
I welcome Albania’s efforts for strengthening regional cooperation to combat trafficking, such as in the framework of the Network of Anti-Trafficking Coordinators of South-East Europe. I also encourage Albania to step up efforts to tackle trafficking in human beings, intensifying investigations leading to effective court convictions of traffickers and with continuous efforts for improving identification, protection, and assistance of victims of trafficking, with particular attention to unaccompanied children and child victims of trafficking.
The United Nations has accused Albania of being complicit in extraterritorial abduction and illegal extradition of Turkish Nationals to Turkey, was this discussed? What is your position on this?
Was not discussed.
Which areas has Albania made the most progress in?
In line with the Communication on the EU’s enlargement policy published in October and with the Constitutional Court regaining functionality in December, the Commission considers that all conditions are now met for holding the first Intergovernmental Conference on EU accession negotiations with Albania.
Albania has demonstrated that it is a reliable partner of the European Union on home affairs policies that have brought mutual benefits for both sides. Europe has to manage migration better, using the core objectives laid down in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum which we put forward in September 2020. While we are now better prepared to deal with migratory challenges that persist throughout the Western Balkan region, we need to reach sustainable and long-term solutions. This can only be done jointly. Our partnership with Albania is a very good example in that perspective.
I welcome the good progress achieved in addressing irregular migration challenges, including strengthened border management. In this vein, the adoption of the Albanian law on Asylum is a milestone. Albania is the only country in the region to have established working agreements with all EU justice and home affairs agencies, which shows the commitment of Albania, but also gives access to a lot of further expertise and resources.
Which areas need urgent attention?
Albania needs to continue delivering on fundamental reforms in the rule of law based on European values. This includes continuing to fight organized crime and corruption.
Combatting, in a proactive way, organized crime remains fundamental to countering criminal infiltration of the political, legal, and economic systems.
Reducing the number of unfounded asylum applications of Albanian citizens in EU Member States remains a top priority.
Questions not answered by the Commissioner.
- There have recently been reports of illegal pushbacks between borders involving both Frontex officers and national police. This has allegedly occurred in Albania/Greece and has been reported by a number of eyewitnesses, including an individual involved in people smuggling who was interviewed by Exit. What is being done to prevent this? Was this matter discussed during the recent visit to Albania?
- The Albanian police have ignored multiple Freedom of Information requests regarding how many migrants have been apprehended in Albania and what happens to them, do you have any information in this regard?
- We are aware of issues regarding unfounded asylum applications, but in regards to those that are based on the real threats, what discussions have taken place with the Albanian authorities?