UK

‘Substantial’ increase in Albanians arriving in UK after Channel crossings

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early 6,000 Albanians are thought to have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year after numbers increased “substantially” over the last few months.

Albanians were rarely seen on migrant boats arriving on the south coast before this year but officials now believe this is the dominant nationality in the crossings, with numbers growing rapidly.

Some 2,165 were recorded as arriving between January and June 2022, compared with just 23 detected in the same period the previous year, according to a Home Office report published on Thursday.

A poster as part of the Albanian migrant deterrent campaign, which translates to You could face up to 4 years in jail and deportation for coming to the UK illegally (Home Office/PA) / PA Media

Officials say between 50% and 60% of arrivals are now thought to be from the south-eastern European country, many of which recently have been young men.

It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel struck a deal with the Albanian government to step-up police activity and fast-track removals in a bid to tackle crossings.

More than 23,300 people have arrived in the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats such as dinghies so far in 2022, according to provisional government figures.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said 532 people made the crossing on 11 boats on Wednesday. The crossings continued on Thursday.

In the first half of this year over half (51%) of small boat arrivals were Albanians (18%), Afghans (18%) and Iranians (15%).

The numbers of Afghans has risen since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul last year, with 2,066 arriving between January and June compared to 247 in the same period in 2021.

Officials fear crossings are becoming more dangerous – with the average number of people per boat now standing at 44 in August, compared to 28 in 2021 – and think it is remarkable there have not been any serious incidents, such as drownings, so far this year.

“The number of Albanians arriving on small boats has increased substantially over the last quarter. Prior to this point, Albanians were not commonly detected on small boats”, the Home Office findings said.

Members report the working hypothesis that the recent increases in Albanians is to replace those who have been arrested, imprisoned and/or deported as a result of increased police activity in the organised crime sphere

The nationality is said to be seen as the biggest challenge by officials, after just under 60% of the record breaking number of 1,295 migrants who arrived in Kent on Monday were believed to be from Albania.

Tackling the growing numbers is said to be a high priority for the Home Office and the National Crime Agency, with the recent rise also understood to be an increasing priority for the security services which are monitoring the issue closely.

UK officials do not know definitively what is behind the surge but believe it could be prompted by organised crime and driven by families looking to reunite.

Lucy Moreton, from the ISU union which represents Border Force officers, told the PA news agency: “Members report the working hypothesis that the recent increases in Albanians is to replace those who have been arrested, imprisoned and/or deported as a result of increased police activity in the organised crime sphere.

“This is a hypothesis only, but does make sense.”

Albanian officials are said to be embarrassed by the numbers involved in the crossings.  A delegation is due to arrive next week to discuss how the two countries can tackle the rising numbers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel (Danny Lawson/PA) / PA Wire

As part of the agreement between Ms Patel and Bledi Cuci, Albania’s minister for interior affairs, Albanian police are to be sent to ports to work alongside UK authorities, providing intelligence and observing migrants being processed. It is hoped the operation will begin within days of the delegation’s visit.

The pair have also pledged to speed up removals of Albanians with no right to be in the UK from next week.

Fewer than 1,000 Albanian offenders have been deported from the UK since a removals agreement was signed last year. But under the latest plans, Albanians will have their asylum applications fast-tracked and those with unsuccessful claims could be put on flights within weeks.

The Home Office is also targeting people in northern France and Belgium, and those who “meet certain criteria, such as being away from home”, with adverts in Albanian on Facebook and Instagram to try to deter people from making the crossing.

This comes after officials saw a rise in adverts pushing Channel crossings over the last month, including those offering discounts for children and disabled people.

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