Albanian children facing racist bullying due to UK asylum row, says envoy

Albanian children are being subjected to racist bullying in UK schools because of the debate surrounding arrivals by small boats, the country’s ambassador in London has said.

Qirjako Qirko spoke out after Albanians were singled out by ministers and sections of the media during the recent rise in the number of his country’s citizens travelling across the Channel to claim asylum in the UK.

He called for an end to the “campaign of discrimination” and warned against reinforcing negative stereotypes. His comments appear to be aimed at the UK government after Suella Braverman, the home secretary, singled out “Albanian criminals” during a debate on the crisis.

The government, encouraged by rightwing media outlets and MPs, is seeking to stop Albanians from being able to claim asylum in the UK.

Qirko said that more than 140,000 Albanians living in the UK had been negatively affected by the debate, which was “reinforcing negative stereotypes and racism”.

“This campaign of discrimination against Albanians living here in the UK should stop. There are people, especially youngsters, who are bullied in their schools because they are Albanians. Everyone who is responsible for this activity should apologise,” he said.

Earlier, he told MPs Albanian “doctors, lawyers, engineers, labourers of all sorts, pay taxes and contribute to the British society”. “Any other different portrayal of Albanians in the UK is a demonstration of a lack of knowledge of this reality. Reinforcing negative stereotypes over a prolonged time fosters only discrimination and racism.”

The UK government is reportedly planning a blanket ban on anyone from a list of designated “safe” countries claiming asylum.

Plans supposedly being drawn up by No 10 have outlined legislation to make it easier to reject and remove asylum seekers from Albania. Under the proposed changes, claims would be automatically refused and a check that officials are currently expected to carry out would be removed.

The move is designed to target Albanians after more than 12,000 arrived from the Balkan country via small boats in the nine months to September – accounting for about a quarter of all Channel crossings. The Guardian understands the number of Albanians coming to the UK has fallen over the last two months.

More than half – 55% – of adult Albanian asylum applicants were successful at the initial decision stage, according to the government’s latest data.

Analysis from the Oxford Migration Observatory revealed last month that 86% of Albanians who received positive decisions on asylum applications in the year ending June 2022 were women, whose leave to remain was granted on the basis that they were likely to have been trafficked and in genuine need of protection.

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Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, has called for Albanians to be “barred” from applying for asylum because Albania is considered a safe country.

Qirko also claimed that Albania was a safe country, claiming that many Albanians who come to the UK via small boats do so because they are economic migrants. “This country needs workers, there are vacancies, [change] British legislation so we can have this opportunity so that people can come legally,” he said.

Other witnesses disputed claims that Albania could be categorised as a safe country.

Dr Andi Hoxhaj, a lecturer in law from University College London, said a third of Albanians lived below the poverty line and there was 60% unemployment. He said honour killings under a code of conduct known as “Kanun” still held sway over many people’s lives across the country, and that gang-related violence and corruption was widespread.

“It is a hybrid democracy – there is a level of corruption, there is high unemployment,” he said.

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