Albanians living in the UK are facing a “wave of discrimination” as a result of politicians’ blaming their compatriots for the migrant crisis, the country’s ambassador said.
Qirjako Qirko told The National that it is unacceptable for anyone to blame the Balkan country for Britain’s lax border controls as he called for an apology.
Since the start of the year, more than 12,000 Albanians have landed on UK shores after illegally travelling by small boat from northern France, making up about a quarter of the total number of arrivals. This is a sharp increase compared with the 3 per cent recorded in the whole of 2021.
Suella Braverman, Britain's home secretary, has repeatedly singled out Albanians when claiming that Channel migrants are taking advantage of the UK’s asylum and modern slavery laws. She said that many Albanians are making spurious claims that they are “modern slaves” in an attempt to be allowed to stay in Britain.
Albanian children labelled criminals
Mr Qirko said the consequences of such a blame game are dire for Albanian children in the UK, many of whom he said are being bullied because of their nationality and heritage. He said he receives reports of Albanians being discriminated against “every day” and said he is “absolutely” concerned about the phenomenon.
“Children cannot attend school,” he told The National. “Yesterday I had a young mum, she had a child of three or four years old, and her son didn’t like to go to school any more because all his friends called him an Albanian criminal.”
He said the “negative propaganda against Albanians” was responsible for the rise in hatred.
“Everyone responsible for that should apologise,” he said. “Someone has to find the reason. Why has this wave of discrimination started?
“Everything has been happening for more or less two months now, we’re on the front pages, [but] criminal has no nationality, no colour, no religion.
“In general, Albanians [in the UK] have been treated well historically. But this kind of approach in the last period is unacceptable.”
Mr Qirko called on the Conservative government to strengthen ties with Tirana and increase the sharing of information in an attempt to stop criminal gangs selling illegal passage tickets to people.
He insisted the Albanian government is open to playing its part in liaising with international partners to prevent criminal gangs from operating.
“We are working very closely but if we don’t have exchanges [of information] from governments how can you know if [a migrant] is Albanian or if he’s not Albanian but pretends to be?”
‘It’s not my problem’
Mr Qirko on Wednesday gave evidence to the home affairs committee in the UK parliament, and left some MPs exasperated when he refused to answer questions about Albanian migrants.
The ambassador said his government has “no information” about an increase in Albanians travelling to the UK, and claimed details have not been provided by the Home Office.
There are about 140,000 Albanians living in the UK, he said, and acknowledged that his homeland is a “safe country".
Asked if he would support any move by the UK government to introduce a blanket ban on asylum claims from Albanians, he declined to say.
“I can say that Albania is a safe country, but the direct answer, it’s up to the British authority to decide it,” he said.
“I cannot discuss this issue because it’s not my problem.”
Migrants in the UK - in pictures
Asked why the number of Albanians crossing the Channel has increased so much this year, Mr Qirko said: “Officially, my embassy, my government … have no information regarding this number.”
He said many arrivals claim to be victims of modern slavery, but would not elaborate on whether he thought such claims were legitimate.
“The problem is, it seems, that the people arriving here … they pretend to be a victim of modern slavery,” he said.
Asked if he thought all Albanians arriving are pretending, he added: “I don’t know.”
Mr Qirko later confirmed he would be happy to see Albanians deemed to be victims of modern slavery in the UK returned to their home country.