Tory MPs’ plan for immediate return of Albanian asylum seekers ‘unworkable’

Refugee groups says proposal would breach UN convention and put vulnerable people at risk

Refugee charities have condemned as unworkable a plan put to Rishi Sunak by more than 50 Conservative MPs, arguing that asylum seekers from Albania should be summarily returned, as should those who say they have been trafficked.

The MPs, led by the former cabinet minister David Davis, say this would reduce asylum backlogs and provide a deterrent to migrants. But refugee groups said the idea would breach the UN refugee convention, put vulnerable people at risk, and would almost certainly be challenged in court.

The letter urges Sunak to pass emergency legislation that would mean people from Albania or other countries regarded as safe from harm would be returned immediately.

It says that this should also be the case for people who claim they have been trafficked or are a victim of modern slavery, arguing this is used by many Albanian arrivals to bolster their asylum case.

“If they have really been taken against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes,” the letter says. “The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed.”

Davis told Sky News that Albania was “a safe country”, and that people should not be permitted to claim asylum over fears of persecution from non-government actors such as criminal gangs.

“The Home Office itself has not been interpreting the asylum laws correctly,” Davis said. “The point is to turn the turnaround time for an Albanian landing on our shores from years to days or weeks.

“That’s the aim and we think it’s possible. If we don’t do it the Home Office is never going to be able to cope with the number of applications. It’s already 420 days to get a decision. It’d be longer and longer.”

He added: “I’m not scapegoating the individual Albanians. What I want to do is to close those loopholes.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme director, said Davis was wrong on several counts.

“There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here,” he said. “The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.

“It could be organised crime, or a blood feud. It can also be women who are persecuted by their own families. The question is whether the state is both able and willing to provide the protections that it is expected under international law to provide.”

Slightly more than 50% of Albanians who applied were granted asylum in the UK, Valdez-Symonds said, adding that it was incorrect to say trafficked people could be returned home safely.

“Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned,” he said. “But returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.”

Mark Davies, the head of campaigns for the Refugee Council, said people had the right to claim asylum “without any assumptions being made, including where they have come from”.

He said: “The system needs to be underpinned by fair and efficient decision-making, which looks at every case on its merits without any discrimination. So to us, the approach David Davis is suggesting falls at the first hurdle.

“There is also something fundamentally flawed in his view that you can only make an asylum claim if there is evidence that it is the act of a state actor that is leading you claim asylum, which is just not correct.

“With Albania, we know from our work that there is an extensive problem with trafficking, and that many people are survivors of criminal and sexual exploitation. This is why more than half the claims from Albanians are granted, and in the case of women and children it’s over 90%.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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