Can a new wave of #Syria refugees towards EU through #Albania be controlled?

| June 1, 2018

Concern has been voiced at the number of the illegal migrants arriving in Albania, in particular from Syria and Pakistan, writes Martin Banks.

Latest figures show this has increased 14 times in the period of January-May 2018 compared with the same period last year.

The rise in the number of incoming refugees in Albania was raised at a meeting between Albanian PM Edi Rama and the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on Wednesday. The two men also discussed future cooperation in addressing the challenges of migration.

The focus from the EU and its member states has been about Albanian asylum seekers trying to move to countries like  France, the Netherlands and Germany.  This is said to be turning into a serious problem for Europe.

However, in his meeting Rama sought to highlight  the pressure his country was coming under from migrant flows. This, he said, could also pose a “real problem” for EU member states, some of which are still struggling to manage the huge number of refugees who fled to Europe in recent years, many from conflict zones like Syria.

Up to May 28 the number of illegal migrants caught in the border between Albania and Greece, as well as inside Albania (during the period January 1 to May 28) was 2,311.
This is a significant increase considering that during 2017 the number of illegal migrants caught was 1,049.

The good climate of the end of last year and beginning of this year and difficulties in the border control to Greece are thought to be among the reasons for the rise in numbers.

Rama said that compared with 2015 the number was still relatively modest but even so was a “worrying sign.”

So far, Albania could cope with the “refugee flow” but he also warned that “lessons must be learned” from the last wave of migrants who flooded into Europe in 2015.

“So that the mistakes of 2015 will not be repeated, Europe should prepare itself before the situation worsens further,” he said.

The PM discussed with Kurz the necessary support that Albania needed to cope with the demands and to meet the “legitimate expectations of Austria and Germany.”

He said, “One does not want the people coming to Albania to be transported only from one border to another but that they are treated with dignity.

“We are ready to devote all of our resources to this cooperation. We want to ensure border security and, on the other hand, provide humane, respectful treatment of all human beings. I believe that we all have the resources to prevent a situation like 2015 from happening again.”

Chancellor Kurz and Rama said they both see a new “escape route” for migrants emerging, from Greece via Albania to Central Europe – in the offing.

Kurz said: “It is necessary to fight  against the emergence of a new migration route.”

Austria, he said, would argue in favour of added financial support from the European side in order to tighten border controls.

The Chancellor also thanked Rama for his willingness to fight against illegal migration and to tackle the  threat posed by smugglers.

Kurz also reiterated his position regarding the rapprochement of the Western Balkans to the EU, saying, “We support all countries of the Western Balkans, including Albania, in their rapprochement with Europe, and we are glad that the necessary reforms in the Western Balkans are progressing step by step.”

The EU integration process, he said “is also the glue between the states in a region where there might still be some tension due to different religions or ethnic groups”.

Kurz said that stability in the Balkans also means “more security and stability in countries like Austria”.

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said a roadmap for the control of the Balkan route is being developed with the countries of South-Eastern Europe, adding, “We have agreed on the cornerstones.”

One senior Albanian source said: “This news – about a new route for the illegal migrants and Albania’s effort –  has so far been almost completely overlooked by Brussels and many member states.”

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Category: A Frontpage, Albania, EU, European Agenda on Migration, FRONTEX, Immigration, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Syria