Albania has an asylum problem. Between 2010 and 2019, more than 193,000 The Albanians have applied for asylum in EU countries. When you consider that Albania is home to 2.8 million people, that is a significant part of the population.
The phenomenon peaked in 2015 when some 67,000 Albanians applied in just one year.
Compared to his non-EU neighbors, the numbers stick out like a sore thumb. In 2020, Albania received more asylum applications for the first time in EU countries than Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo combined. The figures for Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina were only a fraction of the total for Albania.
Although the flow has decreased somewhat compared to 2015, Albania is one of the world’s largest contributors to EU asylum claims and the second in Europe. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the candidate for EU membership contributed 4 750 first-time claimants, ignoring second-time claimants and those appealing.
In the UK, 2019 saw just under 4,000 asylum claims, along with 6,298 pending claims to be decided. In the same year, 279 were granted asylum. The following year, in 2020, Albania was among the top five asylum claims in the UK, with 3,071 applications at first instance. Some 38% won their case.
As one of the countries with the highest number of asylum claims, it ranks alongside Iran, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This does not bode well for the Western Balkan nation who had been asked to downsize to join the EU.
Albania has been constantly urged to step up its efforts against “illegal immigration and unfounded asylum seekers”. The European Commission’s third report assessing compliance with pre-accession criteria, released in July 2020, said the government should seek to understand why so many citizens are trying to leave the country.
More than half of Albanians want to leave
A survey released in June 2020 by the Regional Cooperation Council found that nearly half of Albanians are actively considering leaving the country. This means that they are looking for a job, applying for visas or preparing to leave. More than 60% want to leave, according to 2019 figures released by Gallup.
The main contributors to the “brain drain” from Albania are the problems of underemployment, wages, corruption, the education system, opportunities and the rule of law. Despite this and the continuing waves of migration, the Albanian government has yet to announce a policy to really tackle these issues.
For those who wish to leave, several options are generally available. They can find a job and apply for a visa, migrate illegally or seek asylum.
Landi, 28 (name changed at the request of individuals) chose to pay 2,000 euros to be transported across Europe and the UK in the cab of a lorry.
“I had planned to go to work and send money to my family. But I got caught. Now I cannot enter the UK for five years. I cannot support my wife and my two children with € 250 per month, ”he said.
Albanian’s minimum wage is just the lowest in Europe, at just € 242 per month, and many are forced to work for less in the country’s burgeoning informal economy.
Others opt for asylum; some are successful, some are not. Across the EU, the average approval rate for Albanian asylum seekers is 4%. While this may not seem like much, it represents hundreds of requests approved each year.
Hundreds of asylum claims founded each year
The country continues to grapple with issues such as blood feuds and revenge killings, domestic violence and so-called honor-based violence. It is also one of the main source countries for trafficking in women and girls.
A 2020 interview with Petya Nestorova, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), highlighted the risks of returning crime victims to Albania.
“It is important to consider all the risks before sending them back to Albania… In France, women have been granted asylum after being trafficked because returning to Albania is considered to be risky… it should be more used, ”she said, adding that“ returning women to places where they will be ostracized is not a way to fight human trafficking.
Statistics from VATRA, an Albanian NGO that works with trafficked women and girls, indicate that more than half are rejected by their families upon their return. Every year, women and girls are at risk of being trafficked again or brought into the hands of criminals because of poverty.
Another worrying trend is the apparent increase in the number of unaccompanied Albanian children seeking asylum. An Albanian children’s rights organization, CRCA / ECPAT, recently sounded the alarm bells for over 60,000 minors who have sought asylum abroad over the past 10 years. This equates to one in ten of all under-18s in Albania.
“Over the past 10 years, the number of Albanian children seeking asylum has grown exponentially, creating a generation of unaccompanied children, vulnerable to violence, exploitation, slavery and abuse. criminality, ”they said in an open letter, calling on Parliament to open an investigation into the status and fate of missing children.
Albania is considered a “safe country of origin”. According to the European Commission, this means that based on the legal situation, law enforcement, the presence of a democratic system and the prevailing political circumstances, there is generally no persecution, treatment inhumane, punishment or risk of indiscriminate violence.
But despite this, a number of asylum applications are in the process of being approved.
Trafficking, violence, political attacks
Exit spoke to an expert witness from the country who has provided information on Albania to the UK Home Office and in court cases for more than 20 years. They described the number and the reasons why Albanians seek asylum abroad.
“I see changes in the number and the reasons for asylum claims. In the 90s, they were the ones who fled blood feuds. They have gradually declined over the years, but I saw another 10 in 2020. Trafficking in women, those fleeing planned marriages and trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is the category with the most cases. About a third succeeded in claiming asylum.
They continued, “There are many other reasons that I have seen for seeking asylum; serious domestic violence, specialized health problems, flight of loan sharks, police ill-treatment and attacks due to political affiliation, ”they added.
When asked whether they felt these allegations were founded or unfounded, they explained that by the time the cases reached them, they had been extensively questioned and the more dubious cases had been eliminated.
“I just provided the missing link due to a cultural misunderstanding, for example, why didn’t a woman, forced to marry someone against her will, not report to the police?” It must be made clear in court that such a woman has generally received a minimum education, has NO idea of her rights, anyway, her family would prevent her, and the police would not take her anyway. seriously and would just send her back to her family, ”they said, adding that this had happened in several cases.
On the political level, in 2020, the director of the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes and its Consequences requested asylum in Switzerland out of fear for his life. His work of eradicating the evils of the former communist regime and demanding justice, sometimes appointing those who now hold positions of power, resulted in death threats against him and his family.
Tufa said Exit.al in an interview that “I have been receiving death threats since 2017. These are former State Security officers from the time of communism who now run the political and administrative institutions of Albania”.
Dritan Zagani, former police chief of a regional drug control unit, was forced to seek asylum in Switzerland with his family after pointing fingers at a local gang and former interior minister Saimir Tahiri for drug trafficking.
The European Commission responded to questions on this subject by stating that Albania has put in place measures to deal with the issue of asylum applications lodged by its nationals.
Without mentioning the substantiated asylum cases, a spokesperson said they included “tighter controls at border crossing points, in-depth exit interviews, information on the rights and obligations of visa-free travel and a close cooperation with the Member States of destination “.
The Commission added that the number of applications lodged by Albanian nationals has steadily declined over the past five years, from 27,545 in 2016 to 6,970 in 2020.
Regarding the criteria for Albania’s EU membership, the Commission said they continue to deliver “tangible and lasting results” and “human prevention and law enforcement efforts have intensified “.
Although the numbers are on the decline, they still remain high and hundreds of Albanians are granted asylum in European countries every year. In addition, concerns remain that little effort is being made to tackle the root of the problem, which includes poverty, corruption and, to quote the latest US State Department Report, failure to meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in human beings and protect victims.