LONDON: Officials from London and Tirana have given mixed messages on the prospect of Britain establishing a migrant processing center in Albania, after reports emerged Thursday that a deal was close.
British officials are hoping to seal a deal that would see migrants arriving in the UK via the English Channel flown to Albania for offshore processing — though reports that the two countries are close to a deal have been denied by Albania's ambassador to the UK.
Under the proposed plan, people arriving on British shores in small boats would be sent to Albania within seven days of their arrival, The Times has reported.
It is thought that the prospect of a long wait in an Albanian facility will deter people from trying to make the crossing, stemming the flow of migrants and refugees attempting the perilous journey.
One minister told The Times that the chances of reaching an agreement with Albania were “looking good,” while another told The Times: “Offshore processing is our best hope now, as nothing else is working.”
British Home Office sources were more cautious over the propsect of reaching a deal with Albania, describing the discussions as being in the “early days.”
But while British officials appeared to believe a deal was close, Albanians have outright rejected that talks were even taking place.
Albania's UK ambassador, Qirjako Qirko, rejected the report by The Times, telling The Independent that it was false.
He said: “I can firmly confirm that there are no bilateral talks between the Albanian and British government’s officials regarding processing centres for illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel.”
Qirko's comments were echoed on Twitter by Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka, who wrote Thursday that the report was “the same old fake news.”
The proposal is a reaction to the growing number of refugees and migrants that have this year made it to the UK, with record numbers arriving weekly.
On Nov. 11, a record 1,185 people reached Britain in small boats, followed by 1,000 on Tuesday.
The crossings have proved to be a bone of contention between London and Paris, the former of which has accused the latter of not doing enough to prevent the crossings, despite paying France more than £50 million ($67 million) earlier in the year to stop the attempts.
But even if the deal goes ahead, the plan faces significant obstacles.
With an estimated cost of £100,000 per person, sending someone abroad to process their claim comes in at around double what it would cost to keep a prisoner locked up for a year in Britain.
But there are also legal hurdles. It is against international law to detain people against their will, and ministers have not revealed how they plan to work around the problem.
If the plan is implemented, the UK would follow Australia — which holds people offshore in small Pacific countries — and Denmark, which is planning a similar processing operation in Rwanda.
Australia’s policy has come at a cost. At least 10 people have taken their own lives while in detention centers, and another two have been murdered. Some people have been held for up to seven years before a decision on their case was made.
More than 24,000 people have arrived in Britain via the English Channel so far this year — almost triple the 8,420 that arrived in 2020. In the past three weeks alone, at least 10 people have died trying to make the crossing.