Government ‘Undermining’ Asylum System by Rapid Removal of Albanian Migrants
Albanians crossing the English Channel will face ‘fast tracked deportation’ and campaigners warn this could undermine our asylum system, reports Sian Norris
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The Government has announced a new collaboration with Albania to rapidly remove individuals attempting to enter the UK via irregular means, such as crossing the Channel from France.
The press release does not state the timescales that would constitute “rapid removal” and says that fast-tracking deportation will take place “wherever possible”.
The announcement has already faced criticism from migrant rights organisations. Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “To pre-judge an asylum claim based on biases about the country of origin of the applicant is totally wrong, and undermining of our asylum determination process that seeks to ensure the opposite – that claims are assessed on their individual merit and the information provided”.
The deal, signed with the Albanian Government, would remove Albanian migrant people within days of them arriving into the country, with those who have passed through a “safe third country” such as France or Belgium deemed inadmissible to the UK. Because the UK is an island, all people crossing the Channel will, by default, have travelled via a safe country.
Through the Nationality and Borders Act, introduced by the Home Secretary, asylum claims may be inadmissible if someone travels through a safe third country before reaching the UK. The Act has been criticised by many migrant rights organisations, including the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
In a statement published last year, the UNHCR said the “premise [is] that people should claim asylum in the ‘first safe country’ they arrive in. But this principle is not found in the 1951 Refugee Convention and there is no such requirement under international law, where primary responsibility for protecting refugees is with the State in which an asylum-seeker arrives”.
There has been a reported increase in the number of Albanians attempting the Channel crossing in the past month, with the Mail on Sunday recently splashing that nearly half of those crossing the Channel over six weeks were from Albania.
According to The Times, more than 5,000 Albanians have crossed the Channel this year: 22,560 people have made the crossing in 2022, meaning Albanians have made up 22% of arrivals. Longer term data analysed by Byline Times found that between 2018-2021, Albanians made up 3% of those crossing the Channel.
Just over half (53%) of Albanians who enter the UK via this route are granted asylum, according to data shared by the NGO Refugee Action.
“The fact that over half of Albanians who claim asylum here are given refugee protection by our Government speaks volumes for the clear dangers these people are facing,” said Solomon.
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No War, Closed Doors
The agreement has worrying implications for people making Channel crossings and seeking asylum in the UK, not only those from Albania.
The Home Office press release emphasises that Albania is a “safe and prosperous country”, while people arriving in the UK from the Balkan state have travelled through other “safe countries” on their journey.
The statement echoes Richard Tice, leader of the hard-right Reform UK Party, which shared with the Mail on Sunday freedom of information data about the numbers of Albanians crossing the Channel. Tice told this paper that Albania is a peaceful country where British tourists receive a warm welcome and “not a place of terror”.
However, just because a country is “safe and prosperous” does not mean people cannot experience persecution and need to flee in order to claim asylum elsewhere.
Take for example the Government’s Migration and Economic Partnership with Rwanda, which allows for the Home Office to deport people who enter the UK via irregular routes to the East African state. The Government has insisted that Rwanda is a safe country to transport migrant people to – in fact, this is repeated in the press release for the Albania announcement.
But as part of the agreement, the UK Government confirms that it will not deport people seeking asylum from Rwanda, suggesting there are some people for whom the country is not a safe and prosperous place – it is in fact a place where their human rights are at risk.
A country being at peace does not preclude people from claiming asylum. While many refugees will be fleeing war or conflict, asylum claims can be made as a result of facing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or being a member of a specific social group – such as being a woman at risk of gender-based violence, or LGBTIQ.
It’s for this reason that the UK welcomes refugees from a whole range of countries that are not engaged in conflict, including China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and, of course, Rwanda. These are peaceful and prosperous nations. They are not safe for everyone.
The decision to focus on Albania being a peaceful nation, therefore has implications for people seeking asylum from other countries that are conflict-free, but dangerous to individuals.
The second most referred nationality to the National Referral Mechanism – the Home Office system to process victims of modern slavery – is Albanian. They made up 15% (1,638) referrals in 2020, with victims enduring criminal, labour and sexual exploitation.
Albania may be peaceful and growing economically, but the country has profound issues with drugs-based violence and corruption. It is known as Europe’s only narco-state – a 2018 US Department of State report described Albania as a home of “rampant corruption, weak legal and government institutions and weak border controls” which allows for gangs and criminality to flourish.
Perhaps ironically, this is recognised by the UK Government, which is concerned that the immigration system is being abused by the very criminal elements that could lead to people fleeing the country in the first place.
There have also been allegations of collusion between drug gangs and sections of the Albanian Government – an EU-funded study, which ran from 2016 to 2019, found that 20.7% of Albanians had been offered money or favours in exchange for their vote. In January 2019, it was revealed that cocaine gangs had managed to rig elections by buying votes.
The Home Office press release promises that senior law officials will support their UK peers – but just as there is alleged political corruption around drugs in Albania, there have been numerous cases of Albanian police arrested for, or convicted of, drug trafficking.
“We are very concerned by the implications of this announcement,” said Solomon. “We know directly from extensive work with Albanian refugees that many have been trafficked and are victims of criminal and sexual exploitation. Just because a country is not at war, does not mean that it is safe for all that live there”.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Large numbers of Albanians are being sold lies by ruthless people smugglers and vicious organised crime gangs, leading them to take treacherous journeys in flimsy boats to the UK. This abuse of our immigration system and people risking their lives cannot go on. Thanks to our excellent levels of co-operation with Albania, we will take every opportunity to speed up removals of Albanians with no right to be in the UK. I want to thank my counterpart Bledi Çuçi for the work he and his Government are doing – we are both steadfast in our commitment to stop this trend”.