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UK’s Cameron praises progress in joint effort with Albania to stop illegal migration

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TIRANA, Albania — British Foreign Secretary David Cameron hailed progress in a U.K.-Albania joint effort to cut illegal migration, saying small boat arrivals from Albania to the U.K. fell by over 90% in 2023 as the two countries fought people smuggling gangs, according to a Foreign Office statement.

During his visit to the Albanian capital, Tirana, Cameron discussed the need for greater collaboration across Europe on the challenge of migration, including organized crime, Western Balkan security, and both countries’ support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, according to the statement Wednesday.

The statement said “the partnership between the U.K. and Albania stands out as a leading example of disrupting the business models of callous people smuggling gangs, significantly reducing dangerous small boats crossings, and providing a more prosperous future for young Albanians.” Almost 6,000 Albanians were removed from the U.K. in the last 12 months, the statement added.

Cameron called U.K.-Albania’s “incredibly positive partnership” in fighting illegal migration, “an example for many others to follow.”

“We’ve shown that if you are innovative, if you are creative, if you go to genuine partnership, if you work together as you follow things through, you can achieve extraordinary things which are of benefit to both countries,” he said at a news conference with host Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Albanian nationals were among the 45,000 people who arrived in the U.K. in speedboats in 2022, looking for higher-paying jobs than in neighboring countries such as Greece or Italy, according to British authorities and the Albanian local media. Many end up working in cannabis-growing houses for up to two years to pay back the trafficking money.

Top British officials at the time called Albanians’ arrivals “an invasion,” sparking a diplomatic spat. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called that a “crazy narrative” and an attempt to cover up for the U.K.’s failed border policies. Albanians cannot seek asylum status in the U.K., which considers Albania to be a safe country.

In 2022, London and Tirana signed an agreement to return Albanians arriving on boats in the U.K. London also has funded projects, especially in northeastern Albania where most of the illegal newcomers were from.

Rama pledged to continue the partnership with Britain on discouraging migratory influxes from Albania. The prime minister was pleased with London’s involvement with financial participation and expertise in a new railway link between the Albanian port of Durres and neighboring Kosovo’s capital Pristina. Both countries consider the link important.

The joint partnership with Albania has shown good results in growing its economy and tourism sector that will consequently offer “many opportunities for people to stay and work in Albania and build your country and build the economy,” said Cameron.

Last week, a “sophisticated” network of cameras and a fleet of drones was installed along Albania’s border with Kosovo to track migrants making their way through the mountainous areas and to identify British vehicles used by criminals seeking to avoid detection by the local police.

Albania, currently in negotiations to join the European Union, has been clamping down on people-smuggling gangs, although it is not a primary route for migrants.

In 2019, Albania became the first non-EU member country to have officers of the bloc’s border agency, Frontex, manage its borders in the south and east, which migrants usually cross, and fight cross-border crime.

In February, Albania’s Parliament approved a deal for the country to hold thousands of asylum seekers for Italy.

Source: ABC News

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