In the hills lining the Greek-Albanian border near the town of Trestenik, a European police team supports Albanian police to intercept migrants who are trying to reach the European Union by crossing from Greece into Albania, headed northwards.
The European officers belong to the EU border and coastguard police Frontex. This mission is the first one in which Frontex operates on the sovereign territory of a non-EU member state.
50 Frontex officers are equipped with night-vision cameras and since their deployment two months ago, there have been daily apprehensions. “We have seen a steady flow of migrants coming across from the Greek border… We are seeing apprehensions pretty much every day,” said Krzysztof Borowski, a Frontex spokesman told Reuters.
In total, around 200 migrants were stopped since May 22. Most people were traveling in groups of 10, 20 or 30 people at the border with Greece in eastern Albania’s Korce area, Borowski said. Most migrants apprehended hailed from Iraq, Syria and Morocco, according to Frontex.
The Frontex police team consists of teams from Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania.
One Albanian officer told Reuters that most migrants get off taxis or other vehicles at a toll booth on a highway in Greece, hide and sleep during the day in the forest and cross at night or early morning.
Fewer migrants inside Albania
Due to the joint patrols between Frontex and Albanian forces, fewer migrants are apprehended in urban areas inside Albania. While in the two month period between May 22 and July 22 last year a total of 565 people were apprehended inside the country, the number dropped to 320 in the same period this year.
“Before Frontex started the Joint Operations, we used to apprehend more migrants in the urban areas; now thanks to their troops patrolling the green border, the migrants are located mainly on the border section with Greece,” Albania’s Border Police director Eduart Merkaj told Reuters.
Migrants who are apprehended at the border are sent to asylum centers in the outskirts of Albania’s capital Tirana. Few, however, apply for asylum. Some choose to go back to Greece, while others flee and attempt to make their way to western Europe, Reuters reports.
Some migrants whom Reuters spoke with had been travelling for over a year. An Iraqi national said he had paid 500 euros to get from Iraq to Turkey, and another 1,500 euros to get from Turkey to Greece. A 40-year-old man from Iraq was travelling with his wife and seven children, aged seven months to 12 years.
During the peak of the migratory flows to Europe in 2015-2016, more than a million migrants passed through North Macedonia, another neighbor country of Greece. But several thousand also passed through Albania to cross into Montenegro or Kosovo and move north. After the Balkan route was closed, migrant numbers dropped, as did the number of migrants apprehended inside Albania.
In 2018, there was again a spike with 6,893 migrants apprehended, up from 1,047 in 2017. Due to the proximity to Albania of new holding centers in Greece, the number of migrants attempting to cross into Albania is expected to be slightly higher this year.