Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Why Albanians come to Britain

A friend of mine works in a surgery in London where lots of asylum seekers go for treatment. The caseload is a snapshot of current trends in illegal immigration, and at present that means lots of Albanians. 

Yep, that’s the migrant influx across the Channel we’ve been hearing so much about, and which the Albanian PM, Edi Rama, has been blaming on the British government: ‘It’s not about Albanians or aliens or gangsters, but it’s about failed policies on borders and on crime,’ he said this week. 

Three cases give an idea of what’s going on. One patient was a nurse from Tirana, Albania’s capital, but had found it impossible on a nurse’s wage to buy somewhere to live. So she saved up her money to pay the people traffickers; the going rate to get to Britain starts around £3,000-4,000 and can go up to £10,000. Getting across Europe isn’t hard; it’s getting from France that’s the issue. 

Then there was a man from northern Albania who was wounded fighting with the KLA in Kosovo and nearly blind with diabetes; his son, aged 18 or so, was with him; he has serious health conditions which can’t properly be treated at home; besides, social welfare is more generous here. 

The third was a married couple with a young child from the south; the wife was a nurse. The cross-Channel journey in the dinghy was hell; there had been water up to their waists for what seemed like hours. But when the British boat – presumably the coastguard – arrived, everything changed. It was, like, she said, the promised land. The husband had a reason for wanting out of Albania; his family was involved in a blood feud. She was scared of the traffickers: terrorists, she called them. Certainly she wasn’t going to shop them; they’re here and if anyone gives them trouble, it would be tricky for their family back home. 

Are these legitimate asylum seekers in the sense of having a well founded fear of persecution? I’d say not, myself.

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