Prime Minister Edi Rama has called for an end to the “xenophobic” and “criminal” rhetoric used against Albanians amid mass irregular migration to the UK and has called for cooperation and respect from British counterparts after thousands crossed The Channel and sought asylum in 2022.
Irregular migrants travelling to the UK, mainly in dinghies, made headlines over the summer, with the British authorities reporting as many as 14,000 Albanians made the perilous trip since January. While Albanians have been leaving the country for centuries in waves of migration, resulting in a number equivalent to half the current population having emigrated in the last three decades alone, the number of those going to the UK has caught the attention of the British media and authorities.
“Targeting Albanians (as some shamefully did when fighting for Brexit) as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact. Repeating the same things and expecting different results is insane (ask Einstein!)”, Rama tweeted on Wednesday.
He said that 70% of the 140,000 Albanians who have moved to the UK were living in Italy and Greece and 1200 of them are business people working hard and paying tax.
“UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating Albanians to excuse policy failures,” he added noting that the UK must tighten its systems and “not respond with a rhetoric of crime that ends up punishing the innocent,” said Rama alluding to claims from the UK that all Albanians entering the UK are criminals abusing the system.
Affirming he is ready to cooperate on fighting crime, Rama nevertheless said “facts are crucial. So is mutual respect,” he continued, stating that the British government should stop blaming Albanians for “failed policies”.
From the thousands that have reportedly sought asylum in the UK this year, no data has been provided on where they originated from; Albania or other European countries. Albania has been a leading country for Albanians seeking asylum in the EU for several years, with many being granted the right to remain.
However, the number of irregular migrants has resulted in swift action from the UK, who plan to send Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick to the country to shore up a deal to send back migrants.
Jenrick said on Wednesday that London was working on a “fast-track” system to speed up the removal of migrants with no right to stay, which could see them sent back “within days”. Other options reportedly include putting them on immigration bail, detaining them, or tagging them.
However, detentions cannot exceed a “reasonable” time and can only be allowed if there is a realistic prospect of removal. Ministers say they can process them quickly, leaning on rapid-return deals that were close to being signed by former home secretary Priti Patel but that came to a standstill amid recent political turmoil.
But the legality of these processes is already being questioned with one legal expert telling The Times that, “how can you exercise your appeal rights if you’re not in the UK? It would be extrajudicial and contravene rights under the [UN] Refugee Convention.”
A source working with the Home Office on processing Albanian asylum cases told EURACTIV that the number of applications being sent their way has reached zero in the last month or so, suggesting that the UK government could already be stemming the flow. This is a concern as up to half of those applying previously were granted protection.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recently said that over 70% of all asylum seekers would see their cases granted if they were processed correctly.
“We estimate that most people crossing the Channel would be successful in their asylum claims if they were properly considered,” a spokesperson for the institute said, noting that “more people apply for asylum in France than the UK, but those crossing the Channel are likely to have specific reasons – for instance, they may have family or community ties in the UK.”
As for why people are leaving, the reasons are complex and driven by a perfect storm of factors. These include a long-standing trend of emigration stretching back centuries, in addition to current issues such as poverty, the economic crisis, the perceived lack of opportunities, and problems with crime including trafficking and domestic violence.
But there are other reasons not dwelled on by British media. These include a lack of reconciliation from communist rule, which has led to intergenerational trauma, a lack of identity, and a dislike of the state and even the country. This results in a disconnect between the youth and their country and fuels a desire to leave.
Lori Amy, a professor at Georgia Southern University living in Albania, believes the country’s past has an impact on current migration trends.
“An entire history of trauma from the Ottomans, the First Balkan Wars, Communism, civil war in 97, mass emigration in waves, purges…there has been no reconciliation ever. Reconciliation is needed with the entire history of trauma; else we will keep repeating cycles we have seen occur throughout the 20th century.”
Journalist and political analyst Neritan Sejamini told EURACTIV that there seems to be no obvious reason for the uptick outside of the normal migration patterns.
“In particular, the exceptionally high rate of emigration can hardly be attributed to only economic factors. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any research and studies into the issue, but I would think that sociological and psychological factors are also a major factor,” he said.
Head of the Albanian Institute of Public Relations Alfred Rakipi said the economic component is there as people live on less than EUR 400 a month, but that governance also has an impact.
“Behind the economic issues, it’s about governance and the future. There is no trust from the people; they don’t see light at the end of the tunnel, and they don’t feel they can build a future here. Young people want to leave,” he told EURACTIV but cautioned that the figures from the UK government could be “exaggerated” for political reasons.
Last but not least, pull factors include a large diaspora in the UK and social media such as TikTok, which has been utilised by gangs who advertise crossings for several thousand pounds. The videos directly target predominantly male youth under societal pressure to provide financially for extended family.
While the UK government also plans to inject millions into the region to compel people to stay, it is unlikely to have an impact unless the deeper, sociological causes are tackled.
“We as a society need to reflect, the politicians need to reflect because it is really a threat to us, a security threat – with over half the population having left,” Rakipi adds.