Albania asylum guidance under review after home secretary says ‘trafficking claims are lies’

Watchdog will check for any ‘errors or omissions of fact’ in documents drawn up after Priti Patel met Albanian government

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 05 October 2022 17:31 BST
Suella Braverman delivering her Conservative Party conference speech
Suella Braverman delivering her Conservative Party conference speech (EPA)

A review of the Home Office guidance used to decide asylum claims from Albania has been launched after Suella Braverman claimed “many” migrants from the country were lying.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday, the home secretary said Albanians currently make up the majority of people crossing the English Channel on small boats.

She said Albania was a safe country, adding: “Many of them claim to be trafficked as modern slaves … the truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies.”

The borders watchdog announced a review of Home Office guidance, which governs whether Albania is considered a safe country for asylum seekers, on Wednesday morning.

The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI) will commission experts to look at documents on trafficking and blood feuds, following a rising number of asylum and modern slavery claims from Albanians.

An announcement said the review would “evaluate the extent to which the material provides an accurate, balanced, and up-to-date summary of the key available sources regarding conditions in the country”.

It will “note and correct any specific errors or omissions of fact” and make recommendations for any improvements.

The work comes under the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) watchdog, which has statutory responsibility for checking government information issued to officials in relation to asylum claims.

Home Office records show that all official guidance on Albania, known as country policy and information notes (CPINs) was removed from the Home Office website in August.

They were replaced with new guidance, including the two documents under review, on 20 September.

The changes followed meetings between Priti Patel, then home secretary, and members of the Albanian government.

On 25 August, the Home Office said they had agreed “new plans to tackle the scourge of small boat crossings” by fast-tracking removals of Albanians “with no right to be in the UK”.

Following a legal letter from solicitors representing the charity Care4Calais, the Home Office confirmed last month that the fast-track arrangements do not apply to asylum seekers and claims from Albanians would still be processed “in the usual way”.

The number of Albanians crossing the Channel in small boats has risen dramatically this year (PA)

More than 6,000 Albanians have arrived on small boats so far in 2022, constituting up to 60 per cent of migrants on some days according to officials.

In the year to June, the British government granted 53 per cent of asylum applications by Albanians, although the majority of claims by recent arrivals are stuck in a huge Home Office decisions backlog.

It may attempt to declare asylum applications from Albanians “inadmissible” and refuse to consider them, on the basis that they have travelled through safe countries to reach the UK.

That move would put them in scope for transfer to “safe third countries”, which will include Rwanda if the government’s controversial deal is implemented.

An 2021 agreement with Albania allows the return of failed asylum seekers, foreign national offenders and visa overstayers, but not asylum seekers whose claims remain under consideration.

The independent review of the Home Office’s guidance on Albania will be due by 28 November, and reviews of documents on Myanmar, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have also been commissioned.

An ICIBI spokesperson said: “This is a regular part of the IAGCI’s work to support the Independent Chief Inspector in reviewing and making recommendations on the content of Home Office country of origin information.

“When considering which products to evaluate, the IAGCI will focus on new or recently reissued CPINs as well as older products that are due for review.

“They also consider which countries account for relatively higher numbers of asylum claims and may choose to review the corresponding country of origin information.”

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