Albania’s leader has praised UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for tackling cross-Channel migration with practical co-operation rather than spending money on “crazy things that never work” like his predecessors.
Edi Rama told the Financial Times that the recent drop in Albanian migrants using boats to enter the UK was directly linked to a joint policing task force, which he unsuccessfully asked three previous British prime ministers to set up. Under the arrangements, UK law enforcement officials were sent to work in Tirana, while Albanian officers interviewed migrants in Dover, returning those who had no legitimate asylum claim. The co-operation also included undercover agents on both sides.
Rama said that the shift in British policy came after he visited London and met Sunak in March. “Sunak did it. Did it in a couple of weeks,” Rama said in an interview last month. The UK prime minister on Monday visited Dover to highlight the joint task force, which had helped bring Albanian immigration down about 90 per cent in the first quarter of 2023.
The drop comes after an immigration spike last year that caused diplomatic strife between London and Tirana as thousands of Albanians attempted to cross in rubber boats. The Albanian leader, in office for a decade, spoke of his frustration with previous British leaders and ministers, who were spending money on “crazy things that never work” instead of setting up the joint task force. He said he told Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary to send a handful of “top-notch guys” from British law enforcement who would be granted full access to real-time data and to allow Albanian officers to operate in the UK.
“Great idea, he said, let’s do it. Nothing. I told the same to Theresa May, to Priti Patel, to Liz Truss, everyone: what are you doing? Bring these people — otherwise you’re fighting there, and we stay here, and it will never work.” The UK launched programs to help young Albanians find meaningful work at home and worked in other ways to stem the flow. But the two countries’ police forces only co-operated in a limited way, and even got into a diplomatic fight after home secretary Suella Braverman called the wave of Albanian immigrants an “invasion” of “criminals”. Rama retorted that targeting Albanians “makes for easy rhetoric but ignores [a] hard fact. Repeating the same things and expecting different results is insane.”
Fleeing a general sense of poverty and crime, especially in the poorest mountainous north-east corner of the country, young Albanians were lured by a growing flood of traffickers to cross to the UK for a fee of several thousand euros each. “I am confident that in the summer . . . maybe the numbers will go up but they will not pick up the way they did before,” Rama said. “Now the Albanian-side traffickers, they are afraid. They are afraid to be caught.” (FT)