Albanian migrants should be barred from claiming asylum as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration, a minister has said.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said it is “very hard” to see how Albanians should be able to successfully claim asylum when they come from a “demonstrably safe” country. “The principle that we come from is that a safe country like Albania should be excluded from the right to claim asylum,” he said.
Mr Jenrick also acknowledged the current 500,000 a year net migration was “wrong”, “unsustainable” and "far too high".
He confirmed the UK was in negotiations with the Albanian government to set up a fast-track deportation scheme to enable Albanian migrants to be returned, but said that ministers are yet to finalise what form it will take.
“We have a returns agreement, which was signed a year ago, and 1,000 Albanians have gone back already. We are also pursuing diplomatic channels. I think you should watch this space,” Mr Jenrick told GB News.
His comments follow the first talks last week between Rishi Sunak and the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, during which they agreed to close “loopholes that are preventing the rapid return of failed asylum seekers.”
Albanians comprise 30 per cent, or at least 12,000 of the record 44,000 Channel migrants this year, compared with 28,500 in 2021. Some 10,000 are men, of whom just 13 per cent have been granted asylum.
Officials point to Mr Rama’s description of Albania as a safe country and a NATO member that is negotiating European Union entry. Sweden has already set the precedent by treating Albania as a “safe” state from which asylum applications are unfounded. Since it changed the law, no Albanians have been granted asylum.
Mr Jenrick also foreshadowed “very serious reform” of the immigration system with a bill overhauling the law in the New Year. “We will need more legislation to sharpen up our laws because the system isn't just broken, it's in danger of becoming obsolete,” he said.
UK not a 'soft touch'
“Our whole immigration system was created after the Second World War in an entirely different era. Today is a totally different world where an Albanian can get a flight from Tirana to Brussels, get a bus to Calais and then pay a few thousand pounds to get across the Channel.”
He said the new system would have “deterrence suffused” through it so “you should not get a route to life in the UK if you come here illegally.
“It will mean looking at how we treat people on arrival so nobody thinks that coming to the UK is soft touch and that the UK is not a better site for asylum-shoppers than our EU neighbours,” he said.
Mr Jenrick also signalled a crackdown on students and their dependents. “I am concerned there are people coming to universities here as a backdoor way of bringing their families into the UK and staying here for a prolonged period,” he said.