EU hope Albania grapples with its own asylum seekers –

Albania has an asylum problem. Between 2010 and 2019, more than 193,000 The Albanians have applied for asylum in the European Union, a significant part of the EU candidate country’s population of 2.8 million.

The phenomenon peaked in 2015 when some 67,000 Albanians applied in just one year.

Compared to his compatriot non-EU neighbors, Albania’s numbers stick out like a sore thumb. In 2020, it 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 remains one of the world’s largest contributors to EU asylum claims and the second in Europe behind Turkey. Between April 2020 and April 2021, Albania contributed 4 750 first-time claimants, ignoring second-time claimants and those appealing.

In the UK, 2019 saw just under 4,000 asylum claims from Albanians, as well as 6,298 pending claims to be decided. In the same year, 279 were granted asylum. 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.

In terms of asylum claims, it ranks alongside Iran, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that doesn’t bode well for the Western Balkan nation.

Albania has been repeatedly called on to step up its efforts against “illegal immigration and unfounded asylum seekers”, but things are not improving much. A A survey released in June 2020 by the Regional Cooperation Council, an intergovernmental body in south-eastern Europe, 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 factors contributing to the “brain drain” from Albania are lack of jobs, low wages, widespread corruption and weak rule of law. Successive Albanian governments have failed to resolve these issues since the fall of communism.

For those who wish to leave, they have several options: they can find a job and apply for a visa, emigrate illegally or apply for asylum.

Landi, 28, was among those traveling illegally. He chose to pay € 2,000 to be transported across Europe and the UK in the cab of a truck.

“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 told EURACTIV.

Albanian’s minimum wage is the lowest in Europe, at just € 242 per month, and many are forced to work for less in the country’s thriving informal economy.

Others opt for asylum. Across the EU, the average approval rate for Albanian asylum seekers is 4%. While this may not seem like much, it still represents hundreds of approved requests each year.

Women and children

The country continues to grapple with 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.

The numbers are dropping but the problems persist

Albania is considered a ‘safe country of origin’, according to the European Commission, which – roughly speaking – means that there is generally no persecution, inhuman treatment, punishment or risk of violence blind.

But despite this, a number of asylum applications are in the process of being approved.

EURACTIV spoke with an expert witness from the country who has provided information on Albania to the UK Home Office and in court cases for over 20 years. The expert 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, it was those 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.

“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, ”added the expert.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission migration spokesperson said Albania had put in place measures to deal with the issue of asylum claims lodged by its nationals.

These measures include “tighter controls at border crossing points, in-depth exit interviews, information on rights and obligations related to visa-free travel and close cooperation with the Member States of destination”.

The spokesperson added that the number of applications filed by Albanian nationals has steadily declined over the past five years, from 27,545 in 2016 to 6,970 in 2020.

However, several citizens and those on the ground fear that little will be done to get to the root of the problem. This includes poverty, corruption and, as the last one points out US State Department Report, failure to meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in human beings and protect victims.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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