LONDON: Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania, said there were “important signs of regret and embarrassment” during talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the language used by a senior British minister to describe Albanian migrants.
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman drew criticism last year when she described illegal small boat crossings in the English Channel as an “invasion,” adding that they were being fueled by “Albanian criminals” owing to many of those running the boat routes being Albanian, and the number of people from the Balkan country making the journey and claiming asylum in the UK.
Government figures suggest that up to a third of all people crossing the English Channel in small boats in 2022 were from Albania.
In December, Sunak announced a five-point plan to reduce the number of crossings, which included striking a deal with Albania to station UK Border Force personnel in the country’s capital, Tirana.
Following his meeting with Sunak on Thursday, Rama told Sky News: “British/Albanian relations touched the lowest point in history since we have come out of communism because of (Braverman’s) rhetoric that has put the Albanian community in Britain under very, very heavy pressure.
“I must say that, finally, on the side of Downing Street, we have been heard and there are not only words, but also deeds in putting in place a joint task force to crack down on the criminal networks, which is, of course, something Albania has always wanted.
“While we are (seeing) very important signs of regret and of embarrassment, that is, let’s say, enough at this point. I hope very much that this will not be repeated and that the Albanian community here will be really honored.”
Rama added that it is not unusual for people from former communist countries to seek new lives in the West, and that the UK is, despite the rhetoric, still a very appealing place for many.
“I’m not here to question the sovereignty and the mandate of the British government to have a policy on the borders … but this is what it is all about — economic reasons for coming, getting a job and building a future in a place that has always been the shining city on a hill,” he told Sky News.
He added that part of the solution to the small boat crossings would be an easier visa system for aspiring Albanian workers.
“They claim asylum because there is no other way. They are not part of the free labor market. So it’s all about dreaming and hoping to get what they imagine best for their life now and without waiting for many more years (for this to) happen in Albania.
“Never forget that the Albanians here are doing great and they are helping and contributing for Britain to be a better place,” he continued. “Albanians here are working for construction companies, Albanians are nursing elderly people, Albanians are doing your cooking — so improving the British kitchens, I must say — and they are even singing too, let alone the academics and the students. And it has been so unfair to them to put them under such pressure.”