By Daniel Keane
Albania’s foreign minister has furiously denied reports that migrants arriving the UK on small boats will be flown 1,500 miles to Albania to have their asylum claims processed, labelling the plans “fake news”.
Olta Xhacka said that any suggestion that her country would participate in such a scheme was “embarrassing” after a report in The Sun claimed that the Home Office was in talks with Albanian officials over building a new offshore processing centre.
A government source told the newspaper that negotiations between the UK and Albania over building a new centre in the Balkans were at a “technical stage”. The policy was said to be driven by the home secretary Priti Patel as well as Boris Johnson’s chief of staff Dan Rosenfield.
Responding to the report on Sunday morning, Ms Xhacka wrote: “So embarrassing the fake news spreading in the British media about an ‘offshore hub in the Balkans’ namely in Albania to ‘detain migrants crossing Channel from France’.
“Albania will proudly host 4000 Afghan refugees based on its good will, but will never be a hub of anti-immigration policies of bigger and richer countries.”
Ms Xhacka added that she had instructed that the Albanian embassy in the UK to demand a retraction of the story.
Endri Fuga, the Director of Communications for the Albanian government, labelled the story “completely untrue”. In a tweet, he added: “Albania opened its doors to 4,000 Afghans and we are proud of that.”
The plans are reportedly included in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently moving through the House of Commons. Ms Patel is said to believe that the policy will deter migrants making the perilous journey across the Channel.
It follows reports in June that the home secretary is in talks with the Danish government over establishing a shared processing centre in Rwanda, a landlocked country in Central Africa.
The policy would bring the UK’s approach in line with Australia, which sends migrants seeking asylum to detention camps in Naura and Papa New Guineau. Andrew Wilkie, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, last year claimed Canberra’s offshore detention policy was “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.
The number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats this year has doubled the total for all of 2020. At least 669 migrants succeeded in reaching the UK on Monday, bringing the total for the year to over 17,000, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency.
Despite the sharp rise in arrivals on the south coast, asylum applications in the UK fell in 2020 to 29,456. This was significantly lower than the 93,475 asylum applications made in France and the 121,955 made in Germany.
The home secretary has also faced criticism for plans contained within the Bill to allow Border Force officials to turn migrant boats away from the UK and back towards France when crossing the Channel. Officials would need the agreement of other states, such as France, to drive them back into foreign waters.
According to the papers setting out the proposals of the Bill, immigration or enforcement officers could be given the power to “stop, board, divert and detain”, including requiring the ship to “leave United Kingdom waters”.
Ms Patel on Sunday defended the Nationality and Borders Bill ahead of the Conservative party conference. Asked if the Home Office is still considering a plan to push back migrant boats towards France, Ms Patel said: “Everything we do is legal and within the law.
“I rule nothing out in terms of stopping the boats and saving lives, because by the time people are in the water, their lives are at risk.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings. The New Plan for Immigration is the only long term solution to fix the broken system, and includes changes to the law to tackle criminal gangs and prevent further loss of life.
“This is a shared, international challenge and we continue to work with other countries to meet it.” /Independent, October 3, 2021