People who flee to seek sanctuary in UK should not routinely be granted asylum, home affairs select committee report says
Albania is a “safe” country and people who flee from there to seek sanctuary in the UK should not routinely be granted asylum, according to a report published on Monday from a cross-party group of MPs.
The report from the home affairs select committee found little evidence to indicate significant numbers of Albanian nationals were at risk in their own country but accepted that some Albanians making asylum claims, mainly women, had been trafficked. It recommends that this group should be returned to Albania only if appropriate safeguards are in place.
The committee decided to look at Albanian arrivals to the UK due to the large spike in numbers last year. In 2022, more than a quarter of the 45,755 people who crossed the Channel in small boats came from the country and most claimed asylum. In the space of a year the number of Albanians arriving in the UK by this route had jumped from 800 to 12,301. The reasons for the steep rise are unclear and numbers have dropped significantly in recent months.
Critics of small boat arrivals insist Albania is a safe country. The committee agreed and their report points out that the country is not at war and is a candidate to join the EU. There is no clear basis for the UK to routinely accept thousands of asylum applications from Albanian citizens, the report states.
Until June 2022, 51% of asylum claims from Albania were initially accepted. Nine countries, including Germany, accepted no asylum claims from Albania. The report urges the Home Office to explain why the asylum grant rates, particularly for women, have been so high.
The committee report states that a key driver of migration from Albania to the UK is economic and that improved awareness of work visa programmes would support formalised migration, providing an alternative to people-smuggling gangs. Only 325 work visas were granted to Albanian nationals in the first nine months of 2022.
The committee chair, the Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, said: “Such a substantial sudden increase in asylum claims from a seemingly peaceful country understandably raised concerns. Changes in migration will inevitably place strain on any system, but the government must do much more to ensure it can better handle these stresses. Most importantly it must improve the speed of decision-making and clear the backlog.”
David Neale, a legal researcher with expertise in Albanian migration who provided evidence to the committee, said the report was “very disappointing”, and ignored his evidence that many Albanians were fleeing to escape a cycle of revenge that can pit families against each other over generations.
“Contrary to the committee’s assertion, Albania is far from a ‘safe country’, as I made clear in my written evidence. One of the major causes of Albanians fleeing Albania is blood feud. Existing country guidance case law makes clear that the Albanian state does not generally provide adequate protection for victims of blood feud, and it is clear in my view that the evidence relied on by the Home Office is insufficient to justify departing from this.”
He added that the risk of retrafficking for trafficking victims returned to Albania was significant. “Returning Albanians summarily without substantive consideration of their claims will lead to many genuine refugees being returned to a country where they face further persecution,” said Neale.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This government’s priority is stopping the boats. Last year, 28% of those who arrived by small boat to the UK were from Albania – a safe European country and Nato ally – placing further strain on our asylum system. We’ve worked closely with the Albanian government to disrupt criminal gangs and deter illegal migration.
“In the five months to the end of May, Albanian small boat arrivals are down 90% on last year and we have returned 1,800 illegal migrants and foreign criminals back to Albania. Thanks to changes to our asylum system, we have gone from accepting one in five Albanian asylum claims to just one in 50, in line with other European countries. We will carefully consider the report and respond in due course.”