Although a country at peace, the numbers of people fleeing Albania to Great Britain are equal to those fleeing a country at war such as Ukraine. Young people in the north of Albania, mainly Hasi, Kukësi and Tropoja, are sacrificing their youth by risking their lives in pursuit of a dream fueled by illegal propaganda on social networks. But this propaganda seems to be aided by governmental indifference to react, except in rhetoric. Otherwise, it cannot be explained why the Kuksians, men and women, and even children who are waiting to reach 18, have as their only goal the escape “out of sight and feet”, taking for granted the danger of life.
“The waves hit me right on the back, there were 80 people in the raft, so it sank under the weight. We were all soaked wet. When we saw the coast we thought we had arrived, but…”. This was one of the fragments of the confession of the 28-year-old, whom we called Armando, while speaking for Faktoje . The escape to the ‘promised land’, Great Britain, has become the ‘epidemic’ of social networks.
The years 2021-2022 reached record numbers of Albanians seeking asylum, immigrating illegally or being rejected by host countries, mainly from England. The figures list Albania among the countries that are at war.
The European Institute of Statistics, Eurostat, estimates that during 2021, Albanians are the second non-member nation of the European Union, after Ukraine (50,200), with the highest number of individuals who have been refused entry to the EU, with around 18 600 such.
The three nationalities with the highest number of citizens who have been refused entry to Britain.
At the same time, Albanians and Ukrainians (with around 9,400 individuals each) topped the list of citizens coming from non-EU countries who have been ordered to leave. While France is the country that has registered a significant increase in citizens coming from countries outside the EU, who have been detained after staying there in violation of the law (215,200 citizens).
In relation to the United Kingdom, in the December 2022 report on asylum seekers, Albania is listed among the countries with the highest number of citizens who sought asylum in England during 2021. In 2022, Albania led even before the countries that are at war.
In 2021, Albania ranked fourth in terms of the number of asylum seekers in Great Britain, next to countries at war such as Iraq and Syria. A year later, in 2022, Albania topped this list.
In 2022, until the month of September, Albanians took the first place for people who arrive in Great Britain in small boats and then apply for asylum (24% of the total). Of the 8,466 Albanians who arrived in small boats during the first 9 months of 2022, 85% of them applied for asylum.
Also, according to the statement of the British ambassador in Tirana, Alastair King-Smith, “Albanians now make up the largest number of foreign nationals in the prisons of the United Kingdom.” These figures naturally attracted the attention of the British government.
On September 9, 2015, the European Union started a debate on defining a common list of “safe states” for the Schengen area. In European asylum law, this notion is based on the assumption that some states can be defined as generally unsafe for their nationals or stateless persons who were previously citizens of that state. This makes it easier for them to obtain asylum in the EU.
A state is considered safe when, based on legislation and law enforcement in a democratic system, it can be shown that there is generally and consistently no persecution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or threats resulting from indiscriminate violence in situations of armed conflict. Determining a country as safe or not is the competence of each country.
Albania is part of the list of safe countries , approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This means that the English state must immediately reject the request for asylum from Albanian citizens, unless the request is clearly unfounded.
This is exactly what the British Secretary of State, Suella Bravemen, said in parliament, when she pointed out that “there is no reason why Albanians should seek asylum in Great Britain, since Albania is listed as a “safe country”.
About 40,000 individuals have crossed the canal illegally in small boats this year alone. There has been a large increase in those arriving from Albania, many of whom abuse our modern slavery law . Individuals who come illegally from safe countries are not welcome and should not expect to stay. ” [Min: 1:49:00 ]
Even Albanian politics reacted with the same dose of emotion. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama accused Great Britain of blaming his country for its failed border control policies, ignoring the facts.
A month later, the two governments met to agree a joint plan of action.
Joint communication Albania – United Kingdom
This statement reiterated that the United Kingdom considers Albania a safe country of origin. The two governments decided to set up a Joint Working Group to stop illegal migration and the penetration of criminal networks.
At the same time, Albania and the United Kingdom agreed to increase the number of persons returned to Albania, who have been identified by the English authorities as victims of modern slavery (under UK law) and as victims of human trafficking (as defined in Albanian legislation).
Despite this, further escalation of political rhetoric continued on both sides.
In January 2023, the minister of immigration in Great Britain, Robert Jenrick, published a video on Twitter where he emphasized “the ongoing work to remove Albanian immigrants and foreigners who break the law, emphasizing that some of them are dangerous criminals, convicted of drug trafficking”.
The Albanian authorities considered the statement as “hate speech and discrimination against Albanian immigrants” so they submitted a verbal note to Great Britain through its ambassador in Tirana.
Reaction through the law
And while Great Britain has decided to invest about 8.4 million pounds in the north of Albania through a project aimed at creating new prospects in the region, it is considering another legal option.
This is related to the initiative introduced in April 2022, when Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, presented a pilot project with the aim of sending some of the illegal immigrants who arrive in small boats to Rwanda. The scheme would last 5 years and focus on unmarried men arriving by raft. The aim was to discourage people from taking illegal routes to cross the English border.
The plan was called cruel by organizations that protect the rights of refugees, raising questions about the security that the Rwandan state offers to foreign immigrants. Rwanda is not considered a safe country by the British government, so it was questioned whether this decision also breaks the laws for the protection of human rights.
In December 2022, the High Court in the United Kingdom made a decision not considering the sending of asylum seekers to Rwanda as a violation of human rights. Despite this, the Court’s decision argued that some interest groups have the right to appeal parts of this decision.
This means that until the Supreme Court in Britain makes a final decision, Albanian asylum seekers cannot be sent to Rwanda.
A plan or strategy of the Albanian government, to face this problem, does not yet exist.
For the young people of the Kukës district with whom Faktoje spoke, “escape” to Great Britain seems to be the only way. This is what the mother with her 2-year-old daughter who has to work 3 jobs to survive, the son who has spent the best years of his youth experimenting with illegal and dangerous routes to Europe, or the Kuksian boys who prey reach the age of 18, so that they too can try it.
“ Unfortunately, the traffic of marijuana in England is controlled by the Albanians. And since we are a small country, you can get close to everyone there. The loyalty that has characterized us for hospitality until today, now serves for the hospitality of other collaborators .” – says one of them, when asked about the reasons for emigrating to England.
The reason is the impossibility of seeing the future elsewhere. The thrust is the lack of change.
“ Every day that comes will not be better than what you left behind. Thins will get even worse. I cannot go to England to get a work visa. Only the second way allows me to do this, without the need for after school, without the need to doubt whether the visa will be issued. You try again and again until you go. ”
And while this epidemic has affected Kukësi, the poorest county in Albania, which according to INSTAT has a poverty level of 22.5%, open and easily accessible advertising by citizens of all ages continues freely, while Albanian politics seems to be content with issuing statements of tough politics, without a national strategy in sight.