Albania and the United Kingdom have signed a revised agreement to allow the resumption of prisoner transfers from UK prisons, a step that could potentially affect more than 1,500 Albanians serving time in the UK.
Albania’s Ministry of Justice told BIRN on Tuesday that the new agreement with the UK would need to be ratified first by the Albanian parliament to enter into force and before dozens of criminals come to Albania to serve prison.
On Monday, talks between the Albanian Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj and UK Justice Minister Chris Philp turned to a request for the building or renovation of a jail in Albania.
According to the official UK data, Albanians make up the largest foreign national group in UK jails, with more than 1,500 behind bars in England and Wales making up around 10 per cent of total inmates from overseas.
So Albanian officials have become concerned at the one-sided nature of the prisoner transfer deal and are now asking for financial help.
An Albanian prisons official said the UK would provide donations to the Albanian prison system.
“It has been declared, but this is not part of the agreement,” Femi Sulfaj, Deputy Director of Prisons, told BIRN. “There’s nothing concrete so far, but they (will help) with assistance and maybe investment.”
Albanian Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj and UK Justice Minister Chris Philip signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement in London in late July under which Albanian prisoners in the UK can be returned to Albania and banned from entering the UK again.
The move comes after problems in implementing a previous 2013 agreement that stalled 50 transfer requests lodged by the UK between 2017 and 2020.
“The deal means more offenders can be sent back to serve their full sentence in Albania, with victims assured they will still serve the full sentence imposed on them by a British judge,” the UK government said in a statement.
The agreement works both ways, though there are very few British nationals in Albanian prisons.
The ministry said “misunderstandings and difficulties” had dogged implementation of the original 2013 agreement.
Also in July, the UK and Albania signed a separate agreement regulating the removal of Albanians illegally residing in the UK.
In October 2020, BIRN published an investigation into the routes taken and money paid by Albanians to enter the UK illegally. The story identified six main routes: Calais to Dover by lorry; by lorry from the Netherlands; by lorry from Belgium; by ferry from Spain; by plane from Italy or Greece; and by plane from Italy to the UK via Dublin.
Another BIRN investigation published in June 2019 looked at how Albanian gangs in the UK recruit illegal immigrants from Albania’s remote, mountainous north, where poverty is rife.