Britain is targeting Albanians to excuse policy failures, says country’s PM

Edi Rama urges ministers to ‘stop discriminating’ after Suella Braverman’s ‘Albanian criminals’ comments in Commons

The Albanian prime minister has accused Rishi Sunak’s government of using his country’s citizens as scapegoats for failed immigration policies after critical comments by Suella Braverman about Albanian asylum seekers.

Edi Rama wrote that the UK was falsely targeting Albanians “as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems”. In a series of tweets, he called for the UK to “fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating [against] Albanians”.

His intervention could spell trouble for the UK government, which is trying to improve relations with Albania as it seeks to return thousands of people who have recently arrived on small boats. Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, is due to visit Tirana within weeks to discuss the return of some asylum seekers.

It follows a series of comments by UK ministers and officials claiming that Albanians were behind a recent flurry of arrivals by small boats across the Channel and that many of them were involved in or the victims of organised crime.

Rama, a centre-left member of the Socialist grouping and prime minister since 2013, wrote: “Targeting Albanians (as some shamefully did when fighting for Brexit) as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact. Repeating the same things and expecting different results is insane (ask Einstein!).

“70% of the 140,000 Albanians who have moved to the UK were living in Italy and Greece. 1,200 of them are business people. Albanians in the UK work hard and pay tax. UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating [against] Albanians to excuse policy failures.”

Braverman angered many Albanians by making claims about their citizens in parliament on Monday. “If Labour were in charge they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country, they would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK, they would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty,” she told MPs.

The home secretary, who has faced renewed criticism after claiming that the south coast of England is being invaded by asylum seekers, also criticised Albanian asylum claimants at the Conservative party conference last month. “Many of them claim to be trafficked as modern slaves … the truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies,” she said.

Concerns about people coming to the UK from Albania grew last week after a warning issued by Dan O’Mahoney, the Home Office’s clandestine Channel threat commander. O’Mahoney claimed there had been an “exponential” rise in Albanians arriving in small boats because Albanian criminal gangs had a “foothold” in northern France and were facilitating the crossings.

He said the number of Albanians crossing into the UK this year was “between 1 and 2% of the entire male population of Albania” – a figure that has been disputed by the Albanian authorities.

Albanians living in the UK say they have been demonised by the home secretary. Lea Ypi, a leading Albanian academic and professor in political theory at the London School of Economics, said members of the diaspora had become “extremely concerned” by comments from ministers, including Braverman.

“There has been a scapegoating of migrants by ministers, and Albanians risk being targeted,” Ypi said. “The very term ‘invasion’ is being used by the home secretary. It is incendiary language and it is being used against a specific community. When you put something like this into the public sphere, it monopolises attention and it makes people unable to hold a conversation about an entire nation which does not see them or their people as a source of danger.

“It singles out a minority group, which is very well integrated into the UK, and has made us an object of xenophobia. Citizens become targeted. It is a discourse of blaming immigrants for problems which are the problems of the government.”

About 140,000 people of Albanian origin have settled in the UK. About 90,000 came to the UK between 2008 and 2013, and tens of thousands came to the UK between 1991 and 2008 after they had become EU citizens, often in Italy or Greece.

There are about 1,300 Albanian-run businesses across the UK, most of which are in London, and 58 academies running Albanian language classes for the children of Albanians living in the UK.

Rama said the UK’s rhetoric could end up “punishing the innocent” and that when Germany had problems with irregular arrivals from across the border, it “tightened its own systems”.

He wrote: “We have a duty to fight crime at home and are doing so resolutely, as cooperating closely with others too. Ready to work closer with UK but facts are crucial. So is mutual respect.”

The prime ministerial intervention comes a day after a British general appointed to crack down on Albanian migrants visited Tirana, the Guardian understands. Lt Gen Stuart Skeates met Albanian officials in his role as a special coordinator on illegal Albanian migration to discuss speeding up removals.

The main frustration in Tirana is at the failure of the UK government to implement an agreement on fast-track deportations of Albanians arriving illegally in the UK via a third safe country. The lack of progress on the agreement is in contrast with similar deals Albania has signed with France and Germany.

Braverman told MPs it was particularly young single men from Albania who were “either part of organised criminal gangs and procuring their journey through those nefarious means, or they are coming here and partaking in criminal activity, particularly related to drugs – supply and otherwise.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are always working extremely closely with our Albanian partners on a range of issues and are committed to building on our cooperation to date, including on tackling illegal migration.

“That includes excellent operational collaboration with Albanian law enforcement, and our readmissions agreement which has already seen over 1,000 Albanian foreign national offenders and others returned.

“Working together, we will continue to take every opportunity to intercept the activities of organised criminal gangs and people smugglers.”


Rajeev Syaland Aina J Khan

The GuardianTramp

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