Albania is a state pretty much everyone has heard of yet no one seems to know anything about. From my experience, all I ever hear of is people complaining about Albanian immigrants and ‘their way of thinking’ or ‘doing’ but there is no discussion as to the politics or nature of that country that these people have left behind. Along with Eritrea, Albania is one of the highest nationalities of young asylum seeking children in the UK. When I first worked with asylum seekers and refugees, it truly surprised me. I mean, theres no war, theres no conflict – or not that I know about reported in the news – so what are they doing here?
There are two simple answers to that: trafficking and blood feuds. Albania has had a rather turbulent past, even since the regime change from communism to democracy in 1990 but little of that has been documented by the media. To begin with – blood feuds. Blood feuds are a medieval tradition that affect perhaps hundreds of families in Albania each year – if not more. These feuds can derive from the most trivial situations – lovers stories, neighbours clashes to political debates. And it is nothing short of cold, brutal murder. They simply murder each other. The blood feuds are known as ‘kanun’ a tribal code dating back to the 15th Century basically meaning ‘spilled blood must be met with spilled blood’. This may perhaps be a shock to those who consider Albania to be a European country, NATO member and potential EU member in the future. This lawless tradition is something the government of Albania has failed to control and often refuses to accept as an issue, despite the fact that it results in thousands of families sending their children abroad. It is therefore of little surprise that Albania consistently sits in the top 10 nationalities of those seeking asylum in the UK.
The other issue facing Albanians, especially young Albanians is trafficking. Albanians have long been victims of trafficking, mainly in the form of slavery and sexual exploitation. Often the ‘slavery’ involves criminal activities and forced labour – often on building sites. This trafficking is not limited to young people (women are largely affected too) but it undoubtedly has the greatest impact on them. For decades, young people have been trafficked to Western Europe, sometimes with the victim’s families being complicit in supporting the traffickers, other times by employing threats. The Albanian government and police force appears to be unable to control the situation. Once young people are in the UK, they are often unable to tell anyone or escape from their traffickers due to the severity of threats they receive. Even once young people build up the courage to tell someone and receive support from government services and charities, the threat from traffickers often remains. The lucky ones who manage to escape the horror of trafficking, slavery or sexual exploitation are often then faced with new challenges.
Despite the atrocities that young Albanians face – making it completely understandable as to why they often claim asylum in the UK – most are often refused asylum. According to the Refugee Council, Albania has appeared in the top 8 child asylum seeking seeking producing nations in the world. In 2015, only 1 young unaccompanied asylum seeking child was given refugee status, 8 were given discretionary leave to remain, 288 were given UASC leave and 143 were straight up refused (British Council, 2015). The government has a policy that all those under 17 1/2 have to be given some sort of protection in the UK until they are 18 years old when they can be returned to their home country. It can be presumed that the 143 that were refused were perhaps age disputed and it was decided the were over 18. That means, one can make the assumption that in 2015, out of all young Albanian asylum seekers (440 in total), 1, yes 1, received refugee status.
We cannot be blind to the system and to the nature of human beings in the world. There are always those who try to cheat the system in some way or another but 2015 was not a stand out year for refusals of Albanians. 2015 was an example of how Albanian asylum applications are treated every year. Young Albanians are often running from death or escaping slavery or sexual exploitation. Yet we prevent this escape becoming permanent – all to keep our immigration figures down.