LONDON: Britain on Thursday sought to defuse a row with Tirana after Prime Minister Edi Rama accused it of blaming Albanians for causing its immigration problems. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly held talks with Rama in London and tweeted late Wednesday that they had “an important meeting”. “We agree that we must break the business model of people smugglers who are putting lives at risk,” he added.
Government minister Graham Stuart on Thursday morning also spoke of Britain’s “gratitude” to Albania for its “cooperation” in tackling the issue. Both ministers’ words struck a more conciliatory tone towards Albania than interior minister Suella Braverman, who accused Albanian asylum-seekers of exploiting modern slavery laws to gain the right to stay in Britain. That prompted an angry response from Rama, who accused Britain of actively “discriminating” against Albanians.
“Targeting Albanians as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact,” Rama tweeted on Wednesday. “Albanians in the UK work hard and pay tax. (The) UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating… to excuse policy failures,” he added. Stuart praised Albania for sending senior police officers to help speed up the processing of claimants and highlighted an “expedited system” to return failed asylum-seekers.
Braverman earlier this week caused outrage, including a rebuke from the new UN rights chief, for describing the record number of migrants using small boats to cross the Channel from northern Europe as an “invasion”.
“We are trying to work in co-operation, but clearly there’s pressure,” said Stuart. “It can lead to language which is sometimes unfortunate and it is worth putting on record our gratitude to the Albanian government for their co-operation in working to sort this out,” he told Sky News.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 38,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats, the government’s home affairs select committee was told on October 26.
Of those 12,000 were Albanians, compared to only 50 in 2020.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promised to drastically reduce the number of migrants to the UK and made “taking back control” of Britain’s borders a key plank of their Brexit campaign.
The government has been criticised for failing to tackle the mounting asylum backlog and for not finding accommodation for claimants, instead keeping them in holding centres.