The Home Office has conceded that it does not have the right to fast-track the deportation of Albanian asylum seekers after their arrival in the UK, in an abrupt policy U-turn.
Priti Patel, the former home secretary, signed a deal with the Albanian government in August to return those who arrive illegally. She claimed it meant the UK could quickly return asylum seekers who arrived in the UK and made “spurious” claims.
But the government’s legal department has confirmed that the scheme will not apply to Albanians who apply for asylum in the UK.
The admission was made in a legal letter to solicitors working for the refugee charity Care4Calais, which had challenged the policy. The vast majority of Albanians seeking leave to remain in the UK will not be affected by the deal.
Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, said: “The government’s PR blitz outlined a fast-track removal scheme that appeared to deny people from Albania their right to a fair hearing for asylum claims made in the UK.
“The suggestion was that asylum claims made by Albanians are spurious. In fact, recent figures show that 53% of Albanian asylum claims are accepted by the Home Office, demonstrating that for many Albanians their country is not a safe place to live.
“Under the threat of judicial review, the government has performed a major climbdown. In doing so, they are accepting that people from Albania have the right to make an asylum claim and have it fairly heard. This is a victory for human decency.”
The Home Office had claimed that people from Albania travelling to the UK by small boats had made their way through multiple countries to make spurious asylum claims when they arrive.The claim was made after figures revealed that 2,165 Albanians were recorded as arriving in the UK by small boats between January and June 2022, compared with just 23 detected in the same period the previous year.
After signing a returns deal with the Albanian government, Patel said: “These Albanian nationals are brought here illegally by organised criminal networks travelling through multiple EU countries. They are asylum shopping, making attempts to claim asylum in the UK in the hope that they can remain here.”
Duncan Lewis Solicitors, representing Care4Calais, which challenged the claim, sent a pre-action letter to the government requesting disclosure of the proposed scheme.
In its reply, the government legal department wrote that the arrangements with the Albanian government “do not apply to asylum seekers”.
The letter also confirmed that those people who arrive in the UK by boat cannot be treated as illegal immigrants. “They do not ‘enter’ but ‘arrive’ and must be treated as arriving passengers,” the letter said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Since signing our returns agreement with Albania in 2021, we have removed more than 1,000 Albanians, including some who crossed the Channel illegally to come to the UK.
“Those who seek to abuse our system should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them.”