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Priti Patel’s plans to fast-track removal of Albanian asylum seekers ‘could violate law’

UK granted 53 per cent of Albanian asylum applications in past year and enforced returns would break Refugee Convention

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 31 August 2022 01:15 BST
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Home Secretary Priti Patel (Alberto Pezzali/PA)
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Alberto Pezzali/PA) (PA Wire)

Priti Patel has met Albanian officials as she attempts to “fast-track” the removal of Albanian asylum seekers who cross the English Channel in small boats, but it is not clear how the plans will be workable or legal.

She discussed the sharing of forensic evidence and biometric data with members of the Albanian state police on Tuesday, with the government hoping to deport convicted criminals from the UK on the basis they are not “conducive to the public good”.

British authorities separately hope to declare asylum applications by Albanians “inadmissible” on the basis they have travelled through safe third countries, but forcing them back to the country they are fleeing would be a breach of international law.

A pilot scheme has started to increase intelligence sharing on Albanian migrants after a surge in the numbers crossing the English Channel, which Home Office officials believe is being facilitated by organised crime networks.

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

Ms Patel claimed it was “shameful and absurd that so many Albanian nationals are entering the UK via small boats when Albania is a safe country”, but Britain granted more than half of Albanian asylum applications in the past year.

The Home Office has said it will consider applications by Albanians “immediately” with a view to arrange quick returns - despite many of the 166,000 asylum cases in a record backlog waiting years for a decision.

The Independent understands the plans have not yet been implemented, because of ongoing discussions with Albanian authorities and legal barriers.

Returning asylum seekers to the country they are fleeing is a violation of the Refugee Convention, with the United Nations stating that “the most essential component of refugee status and of asylum is protection against return to a country where a person has reason to fear persecution”.

The Refugee Council said it had worked with Albanians who had been “trafficked and are victims of criminal and sexual exploitation”, and that it would be “totally wrong” to pre-judge asylum claims based on nationality.

“Just because a country is not at war, does not mean that it is safe for all that live there,” chief executive Enver Solomon added.

“The fact that over half of Albanians who claim asylum here are given refugee protection by our government speaks volumes for the clear dangers these people are facing.”

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Migrants (JCWI) told The Independent that many Albanians crossing the Channel were fleeing violence.

“If Priti Patel’s shameful new plan goes ahead it will put Albanian lives at risk, and pave the way for broader anti-refugee cruelty,” said advocacy director Zehrah Hasan.

Number of people crossing English Channel in small boats this year passes 18,000

“Most of us believe that people seeking safety in the UK should be treated with fairness and compassion, but once again it appears this government is more interested in headline-grabbing cruelty than the lives of people their policies affect.”

Care4Calais, which is one of the charities bringing a legal challenge beginning next week against the Rwanda scheme, warned that the government was again “risking falling foul of international law”.

Founder Clare Moseley said: “The home secretary can’t throw due process out of the window and tar a whole nation with tropes. People’s claims should be assessed individually.”

In the year to June, the British government granted 53 per cent of asylum applications to Albanians, and it is not clear how it could lawfully treat them differently from other nationalities when each claim must be considered on an individual basis.

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.

A 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 deal states that it does not affect the UK’s duties under the Refugee Convention of any international agreements concerning asylum and human rights.

Since 2018, 94 per cent of all migrants crossing the Channel in dinghies have claimed asylum. Half of the claims were granted, 43 per cent were declared “inadmissible” because of their time in safe third countries and only 8 per cent were refused.

Under British law, people have to be present in the UK to make an asylum application and there is no visa for that purpose. The government has set up bespoke schemes to resettle people directly from countries including Afghanistan, and offered Ukrainian refugees three-year visas, but parliamentary committees have said there must be more safe and legal routes to reduce demand for Channel crossings.

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