Albania’s Prime Minister snaps back after UK Home Secretary’s “invasion” remarks

By Amer Zaman

on December 7, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

In what has undoubtedly been an inglorious episode in recent UK-Albanian relations, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has struck back at the UK Government, after Home Secretary Suella Braverman singled out the role of Albanians in illicit migration to the UK.  

Ms Braverman has recently made controversial statements suggesting that southern England has been subject to an “invasion” of migrants, and said that “many” Albanians were culpable of “abusing our modern slavery laws”.

It comes as MPs have recently been told that some 12,000 Albanian migrants have arrived in the UK this year after crossing the English Channel, compared to just 50 in 2020. Some 10,000 of those migrants were reportedly men, accounting for 1% of the adult male population of Albania. It also means that Albanians are now the single biggest group among those using small boats to cross the Channel.

However, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has snapped back at Ms Braverman’s accusations, suggesting that the UK was making Albanian citizens scapegoats for what he described as “failed” border and migration policies.

What did the Albanian Prime Minister say about the UK?

In response to the UK Home Secretary identifying Albanians as contributing to illegality in the UK surrounding migration, Mr Rama tweeted on 2nd November that “targeting Albanians (as some shamefully did when fighting for Brexit) as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact.”

He added further on the microblogging site: “70% of the 140,000 Albanians who have moved to the UK were living in Italy and Greece… Albanians in the UK work hard and pay tax. UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating v Albanians to excuse policy failures.”

Quizzed on the issue by the BBC, Mr Rama said the Home Secretary’s comments about migrants coming to the UK amounting to an “invasion” would fuel xenophobia.

He said: “It’s not about one person. It’s about the climate that has been created… it’s not about Albanians or aliens or gangsters, but it’s about failed policies on borders and on crime…. I admire everything that Britain represents. But I really am disgusted about this kind of politics that at the end is doomed to fail.” On 15th November, Mr Rama held a press conference in the Albanian capital city of Tirana, in which he accused the UK of carrying out a “calculated attack” on his country in its singling-out of Albanian migrants crossing the Channel. He said that the UK Government had “launched a blind alley road with its new policy that has resulted from Brexit.”

How has the UK Government responded to the Albanian PM’s comments?

The BBC cited a Home Office spokesperson as saying that the UK and Albania had worked closely together on various issues, including illegal migration, and that a readmissions agreement between the two countries had already seen the return of more than 1,000 Albanian foreign national offenders and others.

The spokesperson said that the two nations would continue to work together with the aim of intercepting the activities of organised criminal gangs and people smugglers.

When asked by ITV about the Albanian PM’s remarks, UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said he wanted to enjoy a “productive relationship” with Mr Rama. But he added: “It’s also true that Albania is a demonstrably safe country, and the vast majority of people coming from Albania are young males. It’s a good example of economic migrants, of the kind that we as a country should be trying our best to deter.”

Why do Albanian migrants come to the UK?

The numbers of Albanian migrants coming to the UK have become a contentious political issue in 2022. UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has claimed that on some of the small boats crossing the Channel, 80% of the individuals have come from Albania.

While only 50 Albanian migrants arrived in the UK in small boats during 2020, this number went up to 800 in 2021, and during 2022 so far, some 12,000 migrants from Albania have completed the crossing.

Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney recently said to the Home Affairs Select Committee that he believed such an “exponential” rise could be mainly attributed to Albanian criminal gangs having gained a foothold in the north of France.

Mr O’Mahoney further told MPs that while he didn’t doubt there were Albanian migrants who needed the UK’s help, there were also significant numbers who were “deliberately gaming the system.”

A Gallup poll found that as of 2018 – more than three decades after the passing of Albania’s authoritarian ruler Enver Hoxha – about 60% of the country’s adults wanted to leave. Among the cited reasons for this were corruption, low salaries, poor working conditions, and a low quality of life. Data from Eurostat indicates that the median net household income in Albania was just €1,997 – about £1,720 – in 2018, compared to €21,464 in the UK.

What is the UK-Albania readmissions agreement?

The Agreement on the Readmission of Persons between the UK and Albania was a treaty presented to Parliament in September 2021.

The agreement serves the purpose of allowing for the return of Albanian citizens and people with right of abode in Albania, as well as third-party nationals who have a verified connection to Albania, in the event that they are discovered to be in breach of the UK’s immigration laws, policies and procedures.

The reciprocal nature of the treaty means that it also includes provision for the return of British citizens, people with right of abode in the UK, and third-party nationals with a verified connection to the UK, where they are found to be in violation of the immigration laws, policies, and procedures of Albania.

For the treaty’s purposes, the term “third-party national” refers to someone who does not have citizenship of, or the right of abode in, the United Kingdom or the Republic of Albania.

How has the UK since dealt with the influx of Albanian migrants arriving by small boat?

The UK and Albanian governments have said they have continued to work together to optimise their processing of migrants travelling between the two countries where it is unclear whether those migrants have a valid asylum claim or other immigration permission.  

It was reported in May 2022, for example, that Albania’s interior minister Bledi Çuçi had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Home Office’s Director General of Immigration Enforcement, Tony Eastaugh. The Albanian minister said that this agreement served to complete the legal framework necessary in order to tackle attempts at illegal immigration.

Several months later, in August 2022, further agreement was reportedly reached between the UK and Albanian governments, with it being announced that senior Albanian law enforcement officials would base themselves in the UK to assist in speeding up the process of identifying people who do not have a legitimate case for asylum.

This new agreement was geared towards ensuring that Albanians arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel by boat would have their claims immediately processed, as the UK sought to put in place a fast-tracked removal programme for migrants deemed ineligible for asylum. It was also expected that as part of the new deal between the two governments, tailored social media adverts would be launched in Albanian, aimed to deterring people from making the small-boat journey.

Can Albanian migrants move to the UK?

Yes, they can, and many thousands of them do so successfully every year. There is a range of available UK visa routes of potential suitability for Albanian nationals, with varying lengths and terms.

It is possible to apply for visas for short-term tourist visits, but also for purposes such as work and study – although of course, the chances of success depend on meeting the eligibility requirements.

Between July 2021 and June 2022, the UK Home Office received 30,703 visa applications from Albanian citizens. Of these, 20,289 were granted. Only 361 of these visas, however, were work visas.

As for asylum claimants, during the 12 months to June 2022, some 7,267 asylum applications were lodged by Albanian migrants seeking to stay in the UK, which was more than double the figure for 2021 (3,578). According to the UK Government, the current grant rate for asylum claims by Albanians is 53%, which is significantly below the 76% seen for all nationalities. Most successful asylum claims by Albanian migrants were by women and children; single adult men made up about 14% of successful claims.

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