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Albania’s asylum seekers

Albania’s asylum seekers

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Home secretary Suella Braverman singled out Albanians when talking about migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. Why might more be coming to the UK?

The Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been accused of ignoring legal advice over the treatment of migrants at a processing centre in Kent. 

It was claimed that decisions she made led to 4,000 people being held in a facility designed for just 1,600, without adequate food or bedding. 

As the argument raged, the Home Secretary was summoned to the House of Commons to answer questions from MPs.

“The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not.”

Suella Braverman speaking to the House of Commons

As you can hear from the reaction, her comments were controversial. Some criticised her  use of language, particularly as she was speaking just a day after a petrol bomb was thrown at a migrant centre in Dover.

But the Home Secretary’s point was clear: she wants to reduce the number of people coming into the country on small boats from France. 
In fact, she specifically singled out Albanian migrants, who she said were “not welcome and should not expect to stay”.

“Some 40,000 people have arrived on the South Coast this year alone. Many of them facilitated by criminal gangs, some of them actual members of criminal gangs. So let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress.”

Suella Braverman speaking to the House of Commons

At the heart of Suella Braverman’s argument is the idea that they’re not real asylum seekers. So what are the facts? 

Albania isn’t a conflict zone, and she says many of these migrants are simply taking advantage of loopholes in the UK’s immigration laws to try and enter the country illegally.

But the real picture is more complicated than that.

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According to Home Office data, Albanians make up a third of all channel crossings to the UK and it’s true that more are entering the UK than ever before.

“Two years ago, 50 Albanians arrived in the UK in small boats. Last year it was 800, and this year so far it’s been 12,000, of which about 10,000 are single adult men.”

BBC

According to Eurostat population figures, about 1 per cent of all adult men in Albania travelled to the UK through these routes.

It’s not immediately clear what’s driving this sudden migration. The UK government has called Albania a “safe and prosperous” country.

But, as the BBC’s Ros Atkins puts it…

“Prosperity is relative. Albania’s median hourly wage in 2018 was 1.70€, the lowest in Europe. In the UK it was nine times higher. And one global poll in 2018 found that 60 per cent of Albanian adults wanted to leave. The only countries where that figure was higher were Haiti, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.”

BBC

It has also been reported that an increase in crime and corruption in Albania is driving people out of the country.

But none of this is necessarily new. 

One reason that the number of migrants could be increasing now is that the journey has become cheaper. 

“Before, for an Albanian that wanted to go to the UK, they have to go on the back of a law, and this was costly, and this would cost £20-25,000. Well now, you can cross the channel just by paying to the smugglers £3-4,000.”

BBC

But the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, Dan O’Mahoney, has a different perspective. Here he is speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

“The rise has been exponential, and we think that is in the main due to the fact that Albanian criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the north of France.”

Dan O’Mahoney speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee

There is a real mix of people coming into the country through channel routes. Some are economic migrants looking for a way to earn more.

Others are victims of trafficking, smuggled in to work in the informal economy – including at cannabis farms.

Most who reach the UK will apply for asylum, in order to be considered refugees.

Home Office figures show 7,627 Albanians claimed asylum in the year to June 2022. That’s more than double the rate of the previous year. Overall, 53 per cent of asylum claims by Albanians are accepted as genuine.

For single adult men, the acceptance rate is very low, at about 14 per cent. This means the majority are either sent back to Albania, or they never see through their claim.
This isn’t the case for Albanian women. 90 per cent of their claims are accepted.

“Most of the Albanians getting a positive decision are female. And it’s believed that many of them are victims of trafficking who haven’t been able to – whom the Albanian state has not been able to protect, and that’s why they’ve qualified for asylum.”

BBC

The government is reportedly drawing up plans to develop a “fast track” system for Albanians, so their claims will be assessed separately. The aim is to facilitate their return to Albania and dissuade others from crossing the channel.

But the conversation won’t end there.

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Suella Braverman’s comments inflamed Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, who says her focus on his country is discriminatory.

“Is nothing but fuelling xenophobia and targeting, singling out community and practically going totally against the great British tradition of integrating the minorities.”

BBC

The nationalities of people claiming asylum will vary every year, depending on global politics. 

What’s clear is that the system is in crisis – with no safe route to the UK for asylum seekers and a massive backlog in the processing of cases for those who do arrive in the UK.

And while Suella Braverman – and a succession of home secretaries before her – have used increasingly contentious language, there is some important wider context: the scale of asylum applications in the UK is nowhere as large as the caseload in France and Germany.


This episode was written by Patricia Clarke and mixed by Ella Hill.