Heading to Albania, UK’s Cameron marks progress in joint effort to stop illegal migration

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British Foreign Secretary David Cameron hailed progress in a UK-Albania joint effort to cut illegal migration before heading to Tirana on Wednesday. Cameron said small boat arrivals from Albania to the UK fell by over 90 per cent in 2023 as the two countries fought people smuggling gangs, and Britain has removed almost 6,000 Albanians, according to a Foreign Office statement.

While in Albania, Cameron will discuss the need for greater collaboration across Europe on the challenge of migration, including organized crime, Western Balkan security, and both countries’ support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, according to the statement. The statement said, “The partnership between the UK and Albania stands out as a leading example of disrupting the business models of callous people smuggling gangs, significantly reducing dangerous small boat crossings, and providing a more prosperous future for young Albanians.”

“Our partnership with Albania is delivering for both our peoples and playing a key role in tackling illegal migration,” the statement quoted Cameron as saying. Albanian nationals were among the 45,000 people who arrived in the UK in speedboats in 2022, looking for higher-paying jobs than in neighbouring countries such as Greece or Italy, according to British authorities and the Albanian local media. Many end up working in cannabis-growing houses for up to two years to pay back the trafficking money.

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Top British officials at the time called Albanians’ arrivals “an invasion,” sparking a diplomatic spat. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called that a “crazy narrative” and an attempt to cover up for the UK’s failed border policies. Albanians cannot seek asylum status in the UK, which considers Albania to be a safe country. In 2022, London and Tirana signed an agreement to return Albanians arriving on boats in the UK London also has funded projects, especially in northeastern Albania where most of the illegal newcomers were from.

Last week, a “sophisticated” network of cameras and a fleet of drones was installed along Albania’s border with Kosovo to track migrants making their way through the mountainous areas and to identify British vehicles used by criminals seeking to avoid detection by the local police. Albania, currently in negotiations to join the European Union, has been clamping down on people-smuggling gangs, although it is not a primary route for migrants.

In 2019, Albania became the first non-EU member country to have officers of the bloc’s border agency, Frontex, manage its borders in the south and east, which migrants usually cross, and fight cross-border crime. In February, Albania’s Parliament approved a deal for the country to hold thousands of asylum seekers for Italy.