XENOPHOBIA AND SIMPLISTIC NARRATIVES HARM ALBANIAN ASYLUM-SEEKERS IN THE U.K.
Last November, the British Home Office Secretary Suella Braverman raised the alarm in Parliament about “an invasion of the southern coast by illegal boats.” She emphasized in particular the increase in Albanian arrivals, whom she accused of scamming the U.K. government and taking advantage of laws meant to prevent slavery and trafficking and to support victims. She argued that individuals coming from a country deemed safe by the U.K. government, as Albania is, should be stripped of their right to claim asylum and that there should be further restrictions of immigration to the U.K.
In the months since there has been an increase in inflammatory statements targeting the Albanian community in the U.K. In particular, the Conservative party and affiliated media outlets have brought disproportionate focus to bear on young Albanian men “flooding” the British shores and engaging in illegal gang activity.
Amid a deepening economic crisis, the political elite and mainstream media have joined forces in creating a moral panic focused on supposed security threats and the economic cost of immigration and its impact on the British taxpayers in an attempt to deflect public attention from the real causes of soaring inequality.
Treating migrants as a demographic, security or economic threat is a classic political maneuver in the U.K. that the Tories in particular have been using for decades in their quest for a homogeneous Britain.
For instance, in the post-war period, thousands of non-white migrants from the British Commonwealth settled permanently in the U.K., transforming the ethnic and racial make-up of British society. These demographic changes sparked a racist backlash among many in the country, including among the political leadership. Former conservative leader and prime minister Margaret Thatcher was frequently criticized by communities of color for overtly racist or dog-whistle statements, such as sympathizing with some Brits’ racial anxieties of being “swamped by people with a different culture.”
NIGEL FARAGE CLAIMED A “FLOOD” OF ALBANIAN MEN WERE STORMING THE U.K. AND THAT THE MAJORITY OF THESE MEN ARE PRONE TO ORGANIZED CRIME.
We see the most recent version of this xenophobia in the treatment of Albanian migrants who are presented as a dangerous masculine force invading the country. Reduced to “scammers” who are “linked with gangs,” we are presented with a portrait of Albanians as a homogenous group of single young men who are a threat to society and unwilling to assimilate into British society.
For example, during a BBC interview, Nigel Farage (former Brexit Party leader) claimed a “flood” of Albanian men were storming the U.K. and that the majority of these men are prone to organized crime.
Most Albanians crossing the English channel in small boats are indeed men and boys. Figures from the Home Office state that from 2018 to June 2022, 95% of Albanian small boat arrivals were male. People like Farage use this fact and twist it, creating dehumanizing generalizations that erase the complicated and intersecting factors that lead young Albanians to flee Albania for the U.K.
The scaremongering creates a racist discourse about Albanians. Despite the fact that Albanians consider themselves as “white,” are generally accepted as such, the vilification of Albanian immigrants is arguably a racialized process of differentiation, what scholar Avtar Brah calls the “racialisation of ethnicity.” The monolithic image of the threatening Albanian male migrant, prone to pathological forms of masculinity and characterized by a proximity to illegal activity, differs little from other racist white European narratives of outsiders.
The Conservative narrative not only creates this false portrait of the Albanian man, it also erases the Albanian women seeking asylum in the U.K., women who are in need of protection and have been ignored or overlooked.
In reality, Albanians are pushed or pulled to the U.K. due to coming from one of Europe’s poorest countries, and the social problems that emerge from such an impoverished place. Young Albanians are pushed into the hands of traffickers due to poverty or low education, domestic violence or sexual abuse, blood feuds, violence, labor exploitation, homelessness or ethnic discrimination (in the case of Roma or Egyptians).
AROUND 85% OF ALBANIAN ADULTS REFERRED INTO THE U.K.’S NATIONAL REFERRAL MECHANISM WERE RECOGNIZED AS GENUINE VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING AND MODERN SLAVERY.
According to a 2019 report by Asylum Research Center, “Albania: Trafficked boys and young men,” trafficking of men and boys in the north of Albania remains a serious human rights issue. Epidemic corruption and a weak legal system has enabled the proliferation of trafficking criminal gangs. As the study shows, the traffickers take advantage of the impoverishment of these communities and manipulate them with false promises of job opportunities, only to abandon the migrants on the shores after pocketing their fee, or forcing them into exploitative labor conditions in the U.K. to pay off inflated debts.
How safe is a country like Albania?
Many migrant experts have criticized how the Conservative party has singled-out Albanian asylum-seekers. “Refugee Council,” a charity with experience providing practical support for Albanian asylum seekers, notes that there are a staggeringly high number of victims of sexual and criminal exploitation in Albania.
Albanians have also for some time been one of the largest groups trafficked into the U.K. In 2022, the U.S. Department of State published a report stating that 2,511 Albanian nationals were victims of trafficking in the U.K., making them the most at-risk foreign nationality in the country for trafficking. According to Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU), a legal hub based in London that offers strategic litigation, between 2019 and 2022 around 85% of Albanian adults referred into National Referral Mechanism (the U.K.’s national framework for identifying and supporting potential victims of modern slavery) were recognized as genuine victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
The U.N. Refugee Convention particularly notes armed conflicts and wars as creating the type of persecution that would grant somebody refugee status, but it does not limit legitimate grounds for claiming asylum only to war. A wide range of factors are listed as legitimating claims to refugee status and asylum, such as race or ethnicity, political opinion, religion, and membership in specific social groups. Many fear persecution, even if there is no state of war.
Despite Albania being designated a safe country and not in a state of war, there is an astounding level of corruption, sexual violence, domestic violence and other societal issues that the state has long been incapable of addressing. Despite criticism from British politicians and media, the Home Office, which itself has been criticized for its anti-Albanianism, has been forced to recognize this fact when they actually look into the asylum claims of Albanian migrants — for the 12 month period ending in June 2022, 90% of Albanian women claiming asylum were granted a visa and recognized as in genuine need of protection.
Based on my volunteering experience with Albanian asylum-seekers in the U.K., the diverse lived experiences of asylum claimants from Albania should not be bracketed under rigid categories such as economic migrants. It is not solely poverty driving these people to the U.K. The demonization of Albanians as scammers of modern slavery laws is racist and wrong.
A number of organizations in the U.K. have condemned the offensive rhetoric directed at Albanians and have called out the recent failures to provide safe legal routes for asylum-seeking as a form of state-sanctioned violence. Human rights activists are asking the Home Office to embrace a trauma-informed asylum system, one which does not blame a particular national group for the U.K.’s flawed immigration policies, but instead invests in increasing capacities for the adequate accommodation of refugees and faster asylum-processing system.
Author: Kristina Millona
Photo credit: K2.0.
This article was originally produced for and published by Kosovo 2.0 within the framework of RDN 2.0 project. It has been re-published here with permission.
This article was produced based on the media monitoring done by the Reporting Diversity Network 2.0, with the financial support of the European Union, Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade.