On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak brought a barrage of securitarian announcements before the Commons. The primary target: Albanian “economic” migrants who are coming in growing numbers via the dangerous – and too often fatal – Channel crossings in small boats. In an attempt to make a show of strength on the increasingly urgent issue (from an electoral point of view) of policing the nation’s coastlines, the British premier has trotted out a series of measures that are supposed to contain the phenomenon.
Prominent among them are the immediate relocation of 10,000 migrants from the “expensive” hotels in which they have been placed to one of the many gloomy villages doubling as vacation resorts on the English coast; an increase in the numbers of staff responsible for screening asylum claims; the creation of a “small boat operations command” comprising the army, the National Crime Agency and a staff of civilians to counter the landings; the deployment of British border police officers at Tirana airport; the introduction from next year of a national maximum numerical quota for arrivals; and stressing that anyone landing in the UK illegally will be “detained and quickly repatriated” and that they will no longer be able to delay their deportation through “false claims,” the latter referring to the false statements often made by migrants to obtain refugee status.
In addition to increasing the number of personnel in order to streamline the enormous backlog of asylum applications, clogging up the pipeline for verifying claims – only one percent have been screened so far – Sunak has also made those making such claims far more vulnerable by softening the precautionary measures that were meant to protect them, with the requirement to bring “objective evidence” that one is a victim of modern slavery, claims that are often impossible to prove. These callous decisions even brought criticism from Theresa May, who had introduced the current regulations.
While still laughably small overall compared to European figures, illegal immigration to the United Kingdom has seen its Albanian component increase exponentially in the past two years, so much so that Albanians have become the most represented foreign nationality in British prisons. In 2020, there were only about 50 Albanians who landed; in 2021 the number was 800, and during the first nine months of this year more than 11,000 arrived, amounting to about one-third of the total migrant arrivals in the country; 85 percent of them, about 7,000 people, have applied for asylum in the UK. So far, 53% of the applications have been accepted, mostly those of women and children. The rest are young adult males, attracted by the prospect of a decent income in a country portrayed by human traffickers (including through “advertisements” on TikTok) as a consumption paradise. There are also many unaccompanied minors, who risk falling all too easily prey to a modern slave system.
London’s handling of the phenomenon (Suella Braverman – the controversial xenophobe that resigned from the position of Home Secretary and then was unfortunately reinstated by Sunak – called the influx “an invasion”) has provoked outrage from Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, an autocrat in power for nine years who is presiding over a disastrous domestic economic situation, as well as protests from the Albanian community in London. Sunak’s measures are meant to placate the right-wing electorate (and not only) that feels it’s being “invaded,” as well as avert the threatened return of Nigel Farage to politics. And they come after the fiasco of deportations a Rwanda, which Sunak has promised to make amends for.
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