The number of Albanians arriving in England via small boats across the Channel has risen dramatically to more than 40 per cent of recorded migrants using this route, according to official data.
The proportion of small boats carrying Albanians rose from nearly 3 per in 2021 cent to 18 per cent in the first half of 2022, according to Home Office data released on Wednesday. From May to September the level jumped to 42 per cent.
The data feed into a debate on the government’s handling of Channel crossings and on the UK asylum system, which Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Wednesday was “broken” during a Prime Minister’s Questions debate in parliament.
Afghans made up 18 per cent of Channel crossings in the first six months of 2022 and Iranians 15 per cent, the Home Office said.
Iranian and Iraqi nationals represented nearly half of people arriving by small boat between January 2018, when the government first began recording the nationalities of people crossing the Channel, and June 2022.
An analysis of historical data by the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank showed that the majority of people using the Channel to enter Britain are coming from conflict zones and have genuine reasons to claim asylum, with around 70 per cent likely to be successful in their applications.
But the recent surge in Albanian arrivals has fuelled debate on the distinction between economic migrants and refugees crossing the Channel after home secretary Suella Braverman emphasised the criminality of those coming from the southeastern European country.
Braverman said earlier this week that if Labour were in charge it would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country.
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama responded furiously to the debate in Britain on Wednesday, potentially complicating government efforts, flagged by immigration minister Robert Jenrick on Monday, to negotiate faster ways of returning Albanians home.
Rama said that targeting Albanians for the country’s crime and border problem “makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact”.
He said that of the Albanians who had moved to Britain an overwhelming majority were hardworking taxpayers. “UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating against Albanians to excuse policy failures,” Rama wrote on Twitter.
On Wednesday, prime minister Rishi Sunak conceded that migration remained a “serious and escalating problem” for the UK but defended the Conservatives’ record.
“Border control is a serious, complex issue but not only does the party opposite not have a plan, they have opposed every single measure we have taken to solve the problem. You can’t attack a plan if you don’t have a plan,” he said.
Clare Moseley, who runs the charity Care4Calais, said her hunch was the surge in Albanians was driven by the relative success of people using boats to reach England.
Moseley said the crossings mostly began in 2018 when an enterprising Iranian refugee began taking other Iranians. It was only later that people smugglers became involved, she added, and later still that the route was exploited by criminal trafficking gangs.
“It was the success of it that started other people doing it,” she said. Measures taken by the government to stop cross Channel smuggling including by closing down all but a handful of legal and safe routes for refugees to reach the UK had had the opposite effect, she argued.
“In the same way prohibition fuelled organised crime our government is fuelling people smugglers by cutting safe and legal routes,” she said.
Last week Dan O’Mahoney, commander of clandestine Channel threats at the Home Office, blamed the exponential rise in the number of Albanians crossing by boat on criminal gangs gaining a “foothold” in northern France.
He said that there was a large proportion of young men among those coming from Albania who may not chose to claim asylum. “They will get put in a hotel for a few days and then disappear,” he said, adding: “There is a huge amount of very harmful serious and organised criminality in the UK committed by Albanian criminal gangs.”
The government said: “We are always working extremely closely with our Albanian partners on a range of issues and are committed to building on our co-operation to date, including on tackling illegal migration.”