Albania Hits Out After Suella Braverman's Comments About Migrants

Tensions are rising over asylum seekers arriving at UK shores once again, with refugees put in the middle.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, in October.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, in October.
Gareth Fuller via PA Wire/PA Images

Albanians have been pushed to the forefront of the ongoing row about refugees coming to the UK this week.

After a petrol bomb attack on a migrant processing centre in Dover, MPs are once again asking how the government plans to approach the arrival of asylum seekers arriving in the UK.

Home secretary Suella Braverman has claimed she will tackle the “invasion” of migrants coming to British shores with her new policies, prompting major backlash for her “inflammatory language”.

Although the government has repeatedly questioned why refugees come to the UK, around 76% of all asylum claims made here are accepted, according to the charity Refugee Council’s data.

Albanian refugees have been particularly targeted in the political clash, amid worries about the overcrowding conditions migrants face at British processing centres.

The Albanian government has now waded in to criticise Downing Street over the chaos, too.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why are people talking about Albanian refugees now?

Concerns about people coming from Albania to the UK erupted after a warning issued by Dan O’Mahoney, the home office’s clandestine Channel threat commander, to the Commons last Wednesday.

He said: “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.

“So the rise has been exponential.”

He claimed this was because Albanian criminal gangs have a “foothold” in northern France and are facilitating the small boat crossings.

O’Mahoney added the number of Albanians crossing into the UK this year is “between one and two percent of the entire male population of Albania”.

For context, Albania has a population of 2.81 million (according to the World Bank).

The total number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats is currently at 39,430 (the highest since records began in 2018).

O’Mahoney also alleged: “There is a huge amount of very harmful serious and organised criminality in the UK committed by Albanian criminal gangs.

“Whatever serious criminality you can think of, there are Albanian criminal gangs who are dominating: Drug smuggling, human trafficking, guns, prostitution.

“A lot of the Albanian migrants we see at the moment are coming into the UK in small boats because it’s a very successful way of getting here.

“Some of course need our help but the asylum grant rate for single Albanian men is quite low.

“Typically they may choose not to claim asylum, they will get put in a hotel for a few days and then disappear.

“They are able to do that because the way the asylum system works and the way the NRM (the referral mechanism for modern slavery) works makes it easy to do so.”

What have Suella Braverman and Priti Patel said?

Suella Braverman, current home secretary
Suella Braverman, current home secretary
Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images

Priti Patel, Braverman’s predecessor, tried to organise a deal with the Albanian government in August so those who arrived in the UK could be returned.

Patel said at the time: “These Albanian nationals are brought here illegally by organised criminal networks travelling through multiple EU countries. They are asylum shopping, making attempts to claim asylum in the UK in the hope that they can remain here.”

This would have removed Albanians’ right to a fair hearing for asylum claims in the UK.

However, the government’s legal department later confirmed in September that this programme did not apply to Albanians who had applied for asylum in the UK, after refugee charity Care4Calais challenged it.

The charity’s founder, Clare Moseley, pointed out the 53% of Albanian asylum claims are accepted by the Home Office, “demonstrating that for many Albanians their country is not a safe place to live”.

But, Braverman also used the Albanians to take a jab at the Labour Party on Monday.

“If Labour were in charge they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country, they would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK, they would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty.”

Braverman made specific comments about Albanians at the Conservative Party conference in October, too.

She claimed Albania was a safe country, adding: “Many of them claim to be trafficked as modern slaves...the truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies.”

Her comments prompted a review of the home office guidance used to decide asylum claims from Albania by the borders watchdog.

The government is now trying to work on proposals for the Albanian government to try to deter this influx of people, as well as working on a “fast-track” route to deport those who arrived in the UK in the last 10 months.

According to The Telegraph, this includes potentially giving the country millions to improve its infrastructure schemes.

Braverman said on Monday that there has been “some success” in removing people back to Albania but “we need to go further and faster”.

What does the Albanian government think?

The Albanian government are now accusing the home office of failing to share the routes taken by those arriving in the UK. It’s claiming that this is preventing the country from stopping the Channel crossings.

Allegedly, this comes down to the home office’s deal with Albania, which states the UK will not pass on information if it could be used to give refugees an advantage.

Albania has provided border force officers to Dover, as the home office requested, and officials have been monitoring people flying out of the country.

However, if a refugee leaves Albania via a bus or a train, they cannot be stopped – the “illegal” action only begins when they step onto the boats to cross the Channel.

Some of the Albanians coming to the UK may also have come from other parts of Europe.

According to The Guardian, the primary frustration is the UK’s failure to agree on fast-tracking the deportation of Albanians who arrive in the UK illegally (via a third safe nation).

An Albanian government source said: “They would stop coming if they were faced with the risk of being sent back immediately. It worked in Germany and France.”

The country also wants Downing Street to offer more legal routes for migrants, as the visa application is expensive and slow.

How have MPs and experts reacted?

Tory MPs, including Lee Anderson and James Daly, have since lashed out at the Albanian population said to be coming to UK shores.

Daly told the Commons on Monday: ”There is no reason for these people to be here. We should follow the route of other European countries and ensure they are returned immediately to Albania.”

Anderson also claimed that “Albanian criminals” are coming to the UK, after “setting up shop” in France. He claimed: “If the accommodation is not good enough for them, they can get on a dinghy and go straight back to France.”

However, Lucy Moreton, from the ISU, works at Dover processing migrants.

She told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The UK asylum system has always attracted both those who do qualify for international protection and those who don’t.

“The problem is when it takes us so long to make that decision – the evidence to home affairs select committee last week it takes over 450 days to make that first decision – we have to treat everybody who claims asylum as if they qualify until we know they don’t.”

There’s also been backlash on Twitter over the focus on Albanians.

Why are people treating Albanians differently to other nationalities seeking refuge?

Albania is a European country which has applied to join the EU and is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). This means critics have cast doubt on whether Albanians leaving the country actually need refuge, if it has these international connections.

Anyone fleeing home for a range of reasons is considered an asylum seeker. Amnesty International points out that this does not have to be because of war, but persecution, serious human rights violations and risks to their safety.

Others also suggest that asylum seekers can only seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, according to the Geneva Convention. For most of those coming to the UK via the English Channel, it’s assumed they were in France first.

However, as refugee charity Care4Calais points out: “There is no legal requirement for a refugee to claim asylum in any particular country.

“There is a requirement for the first safe country in which they arrive to hear their asylum claim, but, if this does not happen for any reason, the refugee is then free to make their asylum claim elsewhere.”

FullFact – a fact-checking organisation – also points out: “The UN Refugee Convention does not make this requirement of refugees, and UK case law supports this interpretation. Refugees can legitimately make a claim for asylum in the UK after passing through other ‘safe’ countries.”


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