The border closure and the pandemic lockdown did not reduce the influx of illegal immigrants entering Albania in transit to EU countries. The increase has been confirmed since 2019, accompanied by the increase in the number of people who have turned the transportation of immigrants into the Albanian territory into a business. Recently, it was reported that women and people of an increasingly young age are also becoming involved in helping to cross the border illegally or transporting refugees for 100-200 Euros per person. Elbasan Local Police confirms the rise in this phenomenon, but the State Police refused to provide any information on the actual situation at the national level.
A report of 2019 by the Albanian State Intelligence Service highlights that Albania remains a transit country for illegal immigrants.
“The influx of illegal immigrants that have entered through the green border in Southern and Southeastern Albania has increased.”, the report cites.
The data included in the said report are further confirmed by INSTAT figures. . According to the institution, in 2019, there were 6,557 asylum seekers in Albania, an increase of 49.5% compared with 2018.
What happened during the pandemic?
In general, we can say that during 2020, illegal immigration towards the European Union was lower compared with the past seven years. However, according to FRONTEX although this phenomenon fell in regards to land routes, an increase in illegal immigration via sea routes was noted.
Albania – a transit country for immigrants during the pandemic?
“Faktoje” addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs for information about the number of operations carried out to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the Albanian border transiting to EU countries.
Request submitted to the Ministry of Interior
The said institution forwarded the request to the State Police, which has yet to reply, despite the complaint filed with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner.
Ministry of Interior’s reply
“Faktoje” conducted further research on the official website of the State Police about 2020, when two police operations took place: (Destinacioni [Destination] and Perimetri [Perimeter]) to stop illegal border crossing.
The ‘women traffickers’ phenomenon?
On January 11th, 2021, a 35-year-old woman was arrested in Elbasan when found to be transporting 5 Syrian citizens. The Local Police Directorate confirmed that they arrested citizen K. B. in Elbasan’s ring road travelling to Tirana. A resident of Libonik in Korça, the arrested woman intended to transport the Syrian citizens to the capital for 200 Euros per person, using her Volkswagen car. This arrest follows several prior arrests of others attempting to transport citizens from third-world countries, particularly during 2020.
According to the testimony of K. B. at the police station, it was concluded that, in this case, the transport was unrelated to any well-organized networks. Official police sources confirmed that the transportation of illegal immigrants from third-world countries has significantly increased, using Elbasan as a transit city.
According to the reporting on the domestic media, as well as those international, the majority of immigrants arrive from Greece through the green border. In 2019, at the border crossing points of Kakavija in Gjirokastra and Kapshtica in Korça, the Albanian police were assisted by 50 police officers from 11 EU countries to cope with the number of immigrants crossing into Albania from Greece, aiming to reach European Union countries.
The Director of Elbasan Police, Mr. Alket Shartro, stated to “Faktoje” that the local police have planned a series of measures that so far have been effective in detecting this illegal activity, as the number of detected cases referred to the Prosecution Office has significantly increased. During the investigations, there were found several organized networks that transported immigrants to the requested destination, mainly toward Montenegro or Kosovo. Furthermore, there have been cases of illegal immigrant transportation, mainly through the Moglica road in Gramsh to avoid checks, which have resulted in severe difficulties due to the road infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in 2019, the number of cases referred by the police was lower but characterized by a vast network of organizers, whereas, in 2020, the cases increased, including also separate individuals mainly of a young age, who have turned the transportation of illegal immigrants into a profitable business.
Many of those arrested are not Elbasan residents, but they use this road segment to conduct their illegal activity.
Apprehensions of persons, including women, involved in the transportation of illegal immigrants are also reported in Korça. On January 8th, 2021, Korça District Court reviewed the criminal case involving a woman indicted of Complicity in assisting illegal border crossing..
Copy of Korça District Court’s decision on reviewing the criminal case for the charge of ‘Complicity in assisting illegal border crossing’, 08/01/2021.
A video illustrating an arrest for illegal transportation of immigrants, Elbasan 2020
A Global Initiative report confirms that the illegal crossing of immigrants through our country continued during the pandemic. According to the data, over 900 immigrants entered Kosovo during the first two months of 2020 alone, among them 300 Syrians. The majority of them entered Kosovo from Albania to continue toward Serbia.
However, cases of illegal immigrants using a different itinerary have been noted.
“An immigrant told to the “Evropa e Lirë [Free Europe] Radio” that returning to Prishtina from Serbia, he would continue to Albania to attempt crossing in Italy through Durrës, and after that, in Germany. Several immigrants had paid taxi drivers around 100 Euros each, to cross the border with Albania illegally, toward their destination. Others had paid 200 Euros to cross from Albania to Kosovo through a mountain trail”, the report cites.