Albania on Thursday poured scorn on reports the country could be preparing to host an offshore centre to hold people seeking asylum protection in the UK, in the latest blow to London’s efforts to find a solution to a surge in clandestine immigration in small boats.
Albania’s foreign minister, Olta Xhaçka, criticised a story on the issue in The Times — which mistakenly referred to her as a man — as “fake news”. The country’s prime minister, Edi Rama, told reporters that the country would “never” be a country where rich countries could set up camps for their refugees.
UK home secretary Priti Patel is under significant pressure from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and some Conservative MPs to halt the influx of people on small boats, which they insist is a bigger political issue than the “sleaze” scandal over MPs’ second jobs.
Johnson’s advisers have warned him that the migrant issue will hit the Conservatives at the polls unless it is addressed.
Groups representing refugees point out that, while the number of people arriving in the UK by boat has increased significantly, a decline in the numbers arriving by other routes means overall arrivals have fallen. The UK received asylum applications from 37,235 people in the year to June, a 4 per cent drop on the same period a year earlier.
The Times reported that “discreet talks” were under way between London and Tirana over the possible establishment of a hub there for migrants to be held while their claims were considered.
Media reports earlier this year suggested offshore centres could be established in Morocco, Turkey, Rwanda, Gibraltar or the Isle of Man. The authorities in all of those territories denied being open to hosting such a centre. Home Office officials last year considered setting up a processing centre on Ascension Island or St Helena, British territories in the south Atlantic, although the plans were abandoned.
Albania in July became the first European country to sign an agreement with the UK to take back its own citizens who had made unsuccessful asylum claims in the UK, as well as its nationals who faced deportation as foreign national offenders and Albanians who had overstayed their UK visas.
The nationality and borders bill, currently going through parliament, would for the first time curb the rights of people who made successful asylum claims in the UK after breaking immigration rules to enter the country. UK courts have generally interpreted the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention as barring the country from discriminating against people who broke immigration law to claim asylum in the UK.
Rama told reporters: “Albania will never be a country where very rich countries set up camps for their refugees — never!”
Xhaçka wrote on Twitter: “Same old fake news this time in the front page of a respected paper as The Times! And btw I am not a ‘he’ but a ‘she’ who has always admired the quality of British media. Sad.”
Some 23,500 people have reached the UK in small boats so far this year, more than twice the number for the whole of 2020. On some days in excess of 1,000 people have arrived as part of an apparent tactic by smugglers to overwhelm France’s efforts to stop sailings.
The Home Office said migrants making the crossings were putting their lives at risk and that it was “vital” to do everything possible to “break the business model” of smuggling gangs. It reiterated its view that migrants should seek asylum in the first safe country they reached.
“As part of our response, it is important we have a maritime deterrent in the Channel and work with international partners to put an end to these dangerous journeys,” it said.