Are trafficking fears behind high number of Albanian women being granted UK asylum?

Nearly nine in 10 successful applicants from Albania are women amid claims anti-trafficking laws are a factor

Migrants wait to be processed in Dover, Kent, after arriving on a small boat earlier this month. PA
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Former UK cabinet minister David Davis said on Monday that asylum seekers from safe countries like Albania were "paralysing the whole system" when those applicants don't need safe resettlement.

Albanians are the largest national group of migrants presently entering the UK and women from there are often approved for asylum ― 86 per cent of successful adult asylum seekers from the Balkan state are women.

Men from Albania are much less likely to have their claims accepted. They make up the remaining 14 per cent of the claims accepted, despite many more males arriving in the UK from the country.

More than 7,700 Albanian asylum seekers have applied for permission to remain in the UK, compared with only up to 20 applications in EU states, the latest data reveals.

Why are Albanians the biggest group in the asylum system?

The increase in Albanian asylum applicants is greater than for other nationalities. In the first half of 2022, Albanians made up 16 per cent of all asylum applicants ― from 7 per cent in 2018.

Dan O’Mahoney, the government’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, recently told the UK's Home Affairs Committee that smugglers had made it easier to cross the Channel and that many Albanian men were operating in criminal gangs.

“There is little evidence in the public domain to explain why Albanians are seeking asylum in the UK in greater numbers at this particular point in time,” he said.

In a report this week, think-tank the Migration Observatory said that migration flows are hard to forecast and asylum migration especially.

“A wide range of factors influence asylum numbers, including geopolitical events, information flows and networks,” its report said.

“Academic research has typically suggested that policy is not the major cause of changes in asylum applications. But the rise in Albanian asylum seekers to the UK is thus relatively unusual when compared against the experience of EU member states.”

From 2017 to 2021, the number of Albanian asylum applicants increased from about 1,900 to more than 5,100.

The Migration Observatory predicts numbers are expected to be higher again this year as the latest data for the first half of 2022 revealed that more than 4,700 Albanian citizens have already applied for asylum so far.

Do UK trafficking laws affect the outcome of claims?

In the year to June, 86 per cent of the Albanians granted approval to remain in the UK were women.

Over the past two years the share of Albanian asylum applicants who are men has increased, from 70 per cent in the second quarter of 2019 to 91 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

Only one in eight asylum claims by Albanian men is granted, a vastly lower figure than a report by the Oxford-based Migration Observatory suggested, meaning UK panels are favouring women because of fears they have been trafficked.

“Many Albanian asylum applicants are thought to be victims of trafficking,” it said.

“A recent article by the immigration lawyer Irene Tsherit argues that applications from Albanian applicants are often granted on the basis that they have been trafficked, and that UK asylum decision-makers have typically been much more likely to accept female than male trafficking victims.”

Do all Albanians arrive by boat?

Albanians have been the biggest nationality arriving in the UK by small boat this year, Home Office figures reveal.

They accounted for 13,650 asylum applications in the year to September. Half of those claims originated from small boat arrivals.

Last year, 72,000 applications for asylum were made by Albanians.

More than 40,000 asylum seekers, of all nationalities, have crossed the Channel to the UK on small boats so far this year. Of these, 11,000 were Albanians.

Last year, only 800 Albanians arrived by boat.

“A significant proportion of Albanians in the UK are likely to have arrived here illegally,” said National Crime Agency deputy director Andrea Wilson, who leads its work on threats from Channel crossings and western Balkan crime groups.

“Currently we have more than 70 live operations into organised immigration crime and a significant proportion of those are into Albanian organised crime groups.

“They are one of the top nationalities coming here illegally, both through clandestine methods and on small boats.”

Other methods being used by Albanians to enter the UK include hiding in the back of lorries.

What happens to Albanian men who apply for asylum?

Albanians crossing the Channel to the UK this year are said to have predominantly been men.

The 11,000 arrivals to the UK represents up to 2 per cent of the entire adult male population of Albania [aged 20 to 40], according to Mr O’Mahoney.

Mr O’Mahoney claims many male applicants claimed they were victims of modern slavery, but fears some were “deliberately gaming the system”.

He has warned that some men are involved in organised crime groups.

The UK government has described Albania as a 'safe and prosperous country' and says that many Albanians who claim asylum in the UK are economic migrants whose asylum claims are 'spurious'.

Questions have been asked over how Albanians are being coached while in their home country on what to say and do if they are detained in the UK.

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama previously accused Britain of carrying out a “calculated attack” on his country by blaming it for the increase in Channel crossings and reiterated claims it is being used as a scapegoat for failed immigration policies.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 8:00 AM