Is Albania ‘safe’?
Every so often, the Home Office makes a comment that makes us have to read it twice over. Sometimes we nod to ourselves in agreement, and other times we sit there and decide to contemplate life as a whole and to be completely honest, this time is more the latter than the former. Let’s break it down.
A shiny, new report produced by the Home Office’s Home Affairs Committee made the rather bold statement that Albania is a ‘safe’ country; essentially suggesting that asylum claims from Albanian nationals are unlikely to have merit and are therefore likely to be refused (with the kind exception of those who have been trafficked and exploited into modern slavery).
Now, for context, it is estimated that some 85% of the 8,466 Albanians who arrived by small boats to the UK between 1 January and 30 September 2022 applied for asylum. Moreover, 51% of Albanian initial claims were given a positive decision. To make this blog slightly more enjoyable, in ‘Where’s Wally’ style, you are welcomed to find the Home Office contradictions dotted throughout this piece.
So, in light of these statistics,
it is worth questioning how the Home Office made this determination.
How was this conclusion reached?
Well, as succinctly as the Home Office choses to be (presumably to avoid further questions), the reasoning is outlined as follows:
- Albania is not currently at war; (basically just an echo of a statement made by Home Secretary Suella Braverman:
Albania is not a war-torn country, and it is very difficult to see how claims for asylum can really be legitimate claims for asylum’ (There are other grounds to claim asylum on, of course, but moving swiftly along…)
2. It is a signatory to European Conventions including Conventions relating to the control and curbing of Human Trafficking.
3. Albania is a candidate to join the EU; and
4. Many other European countries are similarly receiving asylum applications from Albanians but aren’t granting them (so why should we?)
A bleak list, no doubt. But let’s actually sit down and examine the report in more depth. The first substantive thing the report does, is lists the reasons for Albanians to leave their country (the ‘push’ factors if you will).
So, (and  for those seeking Home Office contradictions instead of the character in Red and White) the Committee commences by claiming that it is ‘not clear why the number of Albanians seeking to reach the UK irregularly via the Channel rose so sharply in 2022’ and then continues by explaining why there is an increase in Albanians arriving to the UK.
The first deduction was of economic migration. The report, rather applaudably, makes note of the fact that Albania is comparatively poorer, and that this poverty was only further exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The report is also correct to evidence their claims and are right in noting, as most of those who research Albania do, that the average monthly income is significantly lower than in the UK.
The third inference is that there is an alleged perception that it is easier to obtain work in the UK than other European countries – no comments to be made about this in this piece.
The fourth and fifth conclusions overlap slightly and they are, firstly, of those individuals who have been trafficked and/or have been made into modern slaves (with particular consideration given to women) and secondly, those who have had to participate in organized crime.
The second conclusion it makes is that there is seemingly a perception that the UK system will enable anyone who reaches the UK to remain for either a long period or indefinitely. Now, ‘indefinitely’ is certainly far – reached. But, and as anyone working in my field will confirm, ‘long period’ is most definitely achievable. And in another contradiction ( for those who are playing the ‘Where’s Wally game), the report accepts that there were significant processing delays. So, to carry out very simple Maths: time to make the asylum application + time to have your asylum claim processed = long period. But never mind, moving on…
This blog will look at the fourth point in more detail.
1. Trafficking of Albanian Men and Women
It is a well – known fact, not just amongst Humanitarian organisations but also accepted by the Home Office in its Country Policy and Information Notes on Albania, that human trafficking from Albania into the UK is a massive issue. It has also been acknowledged that both men and women are trafficked – men usually for labour purposes and women predominantly for sexual purposes.
The report states, somewhat excitedly, that there is a significant disparity in the rates that women are granted asylum compared to the rates at which men are in the UK. The rates are in fact 88%:13%. In a rather fickle attempt to clarify these rates, the explanation was:
‘[women] have been granted asylum because, in the estimation of the British Government, they would not be able to avail themselves of protection in Albania’
Now, (and for those still playing ‘Where’s Wally: Home Office Report Edition, ), the report headlined itself by claiming that Albania was a ‘safe’ country. Yet, in what can only be explained as a shocking proofreading error, the report accepts that Albania is not a country which can provide sufficient protection for Albanian women who have been trafficked. In other words, and given that something the Home Office needs to consider when making asylum decisions in trafficking cases is the likely – hood of re-trafficking, Albania cannot ensure the safety of those previously trafficked. And in that case, how can we conclude that it is a ‘safe’ country?
Furthermore, and once again keeping in mind the Home Office’s own production of Albania’s Country Policy and Information Notes, trafficking is a problem. The report acknowledges this and further goes on to assert that support for those who are re-integrated is minimal and that this support is provided for largely by Charities and NGOs. Here is one of the occasions we can sit back and commend the Home Office for its regurgitation of facts.
Within the same breath, the report begins discussing the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (used to validate individuals’ modern slavery claims). The relevance of this to this discussion is absolute, particularly as 90% of Albanians have been found to have had ‘reasonable grounds’ to have been victims of modern slavery. The report further qualifies that NRM referrals for Modern Slavery:
‘Does not give an individual the right to remain in the UK. It requires us [the decision – maker] to ensure that their ongoing recovery needs can be met in the country to which you [the decision – maker] are returning them. In the case of Albania, this may be possible’
So, (and  for anyone who hasn’t given up playing the easiest game of ‘Where’s Wally’) if trafficking is still a widespread issue causing human beings to be trafficked either for labour or sex (contrary to so many international conventions that the UK is signatory to including…:
- the Palermo Protocol – a supplement to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime;
- Universal Declaration on Human Rights;
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
- The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
… and the main support and protection provided to victims (and for the avoidance of possible re-trafficking) is done so by Charities and not even the Government of Albania (as required by the 1951 Refugee Convention), how can Albania be labelled a ‘safe’ country? To be so reliant on charity is, surely, a mere indication that the country lacks the necessary mechanisms to provide its citizens adequate protection.
So, having quickly run through the 30 – page report, the one thing we have ascertained is that the labelling of Albania as ‘safe’ lacks sufficient evidence, and this can clearly be seen by the report’s attempts to ‘pull at any straw’ to be able to justify themselves. Unfortunately for those coming from Albania seeking to claim asylum in the UK, however, this has the potential of seriously limiting the number of Albanian asylum claims granted.