'Up to 2% of Albanian men under 40' have made Channel crossing to UK

Figures are high despite French patrols stopping twice the number of boats compared with 2021

More than 38,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats this year. AFP
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About 10,000 adult men from Albania have travelled to the UK this year in small boats, the Home Office has said.

The number represents up to 2 per cent of all men aged between 20 and 40 in the southern European country, according to officials.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander for Border Force, said the “exponential rise” was because of Albanian criminal gangs operating in northern France.

They put migrants in touch with Albanian gangs in the UK, who are involved in the drugs trade, human trafficking, guns and prostitution, he told the home affairs committee.

The news comes at a time when UK officials revealed they were spending about £7 million ($8.12m) a day housing asylum seekers in hotels, with the cost expected to rise.

The number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel to the UK on small boats this year has so far reached 38,000.

About 12,000 of them were Albanian migrants, a figure that rose from 800 last year and 50 in 2020.

“They have begun facilitating very large numbers of migrants,” Mr O’Mahoney told the committee.

“That number of 10,000 is between 1 [per cent] and 2 per cent of the entire adult male population of Albania [aged 20 to 40].”

Most Albanian migrants lodged asylum applications or claimed they were victims of modern slavery. But many were “deliberately gaming the system”, Mr O’Mahoney said.

On Wednesday, the Commons Home Affairs Committee heard that £5.6m a day was being spent on hotels for people who had arrived in the UK and had submitted an asylum claim, with an additional £1.2m paid to house Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban takeover.

The total of £6.8m is £2m more than what the government said it was spending in February (£4.7m).

Abi Tierney, director general of the passport office and UK visas and immigration, said the cost would increase in the coming months.

The number of migrants has increased this year despite French patrol vessels stopping twice the number arriving in the UK this year, compared with last year.

The committee was told that, of the 28,526 people who made the crossing last year, only 4 per cent of their asylum claims have been processed and 85 per cent of them were successful.

More than 100,000 claims are outstanding, the committee heard, the delay caused by a Home Office asylum backlog.

Dan Hobbs, the Home Office’s director of asylum, protection and enforcement, said there was a “challenge in processing asylum claims in a timely way at present” and confirmed only a “small proportion” of last year’s arrivals had been granted asylum.

Tamsin Baxter, executive director of external affairs at the Refugee Council, said the issue should be addressed.

“That only 4 per cent of those arriving by boat to claim asylum in 2021 have had a decision on their asylum claim is appalling and indicative of an asylum system in urgent need of reform,” she said.

“The Home Office is already sitting on a backlog of more than 100,000 people awaiting an initial decision.”

She said the asylum backlog causes misery for people waiting months or even years for news of their fate.

“It is also causing a concerningly high number of people to be crammed into hotel accommodation, now costing a staggering £5.6m a day,” Ms Baxter said.

“Hotels are completely unsuitable for housing vulnerable men, women and children and [this] sees people shunted around the country as hotels open and close.”

Lucy Moreton, spokesperson for the Union for Borders, Immigration & Customs (ISU), said the migrant process centre at Manston in Kent is “catastrophically overcrowded” and people are not being held in “humane conditions”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Moreton said: “They don’t have any enrichment, they don’t have anything to do, they’re bored, they’re frustrated and understandably they scrap among themselves and with us.

“It’s not their fault they’re in that situation.

“In fairness, it’s not Border Force or Immigration Enforcement’s fault. There’s no housing upstream so we can’t move them on.”

Diana Johnson, Labour chair of the cross party home affairs select committee, said the asylum and immigration system was “in crisis”.

“There are over 100,000 asylum claims waiting to be decided, so there is a huge backlog and when people travel over in the small boats across the Channel, they are just added to that number. And that means the system is gummed up,” she told the Today programme.

Nadhim Zahawi, cabinet minister without portfolio, said there were no “easy answers” to the problem.

“There are a number of things Suella [Braverman, UK Home Secretary] is doing and looking at. Including, by the way, if you look at the spike in numbers this year, about 80 per cent of it is coming from Albania,” he told Radio 4.

“The work we are doing with our French counterparts is to engage with the Albanian government to deal with this. There is evidence of abusing the modern slavery legislation with the Albanians coming across on these small boats, putting their lives at risk.

“There are a number of levers we are trying to pull, including trying to operationalise the Rwanda agreement we have in place that I know the home secretary is focused on.”

In October alone, at least 5,000 migrants made the Channel journey, provisional government figures show, but no crossings were recorded by the Ministry of Defence on Monday or Tuesday.

In France, migrants are not detained and processed after being caught trying to cross the Channel. Mr O’Mahoney said French laws made it “difficult for French officers to take any action in that way”.

He told the committee French beach patrols in the north of the country were only “one brick in the wall” of the efforts to curb Channel crossings.

Work by the UK and French authorities have led to 55 serious organised criminal gangs behind such crossings being dismantled since a joint intelligence cell was set up in France a couple of years ago, he said.

More than 500 people have been arrested, he said.

In April, former home secretary Priti Patel signed what she described as a “world-first agreement” to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda in an attempt to deter them from crossing the Channel.

However, deportation flights are grounded at present while asylum seekers fight legal cases against their removal.

As it attempts to stem the flow of people arriving in the UK, the government — which had promised to be tough on migration — has increased naval patrols and has asked France to step up land operations.

Updated: October 27, 2022, 8:17 AM
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