Since the summer of 2015, the number of Albanians requesting asylum in Western Europe has risen dramatically. Although the number of asylum requests dropped during 2016, the number of people migrating illegally has continued to grow. Balkanist spoke with several Albanians in different countries and asked them why they chose to leave.
To understand why Albanians are choosing to migrate, it’s important to understand where the influx began. The country that saw the biggest increase in Albanian migrants was Germany. This peaked during 2015, when more than 54,000 Albanians asked for asylum. Although migration from Albania over the past three decades isn’t anything new, the year 2015 was different than previous years due to the significant increase in asylum request by Albanians.
In order to grasp the enormity of the present problem, it is important to put the figures into perspective. The tiny Balkan state of Albania has a population of 2.9 million. In 2015, there were 54,000 asylum requests in Germany alone, meaningdisa about two percent of the country’s population requested asylum.
While Germany was the most popular destination country for Albanians, several other countries have also seen a large increase of Albanians seeking asylum. These countries include France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Greece.
Although a high number of Albanians requested asylum, most of them seemed to realize that the chances of actually receiving asylum were low. The lack of jobs in Albania and the long bureaucratic process necessary to apply for asylum in European countries allowed Albanians to receive financial support meant for refugees. A majority of the Albanian asylum seekers used this method to relieve their households from the cost of living in Albania. It’s the economic benefits that motivate asylum seekers to stretch out the return process to Albania as long as possible.
At the end of 2016, Balkanist spoke with Emiljano (37), who last year stayed in an asylum camp in Oss, The Netherlands. Emiljano exaplained that the difficult economic situation forced him to leave his country. He said that the low job prospects made it impossible for him to return to his country. “The Netherlands is the second country where I asked for asylum,” said Emiljano, “I was refused by Germany, where I did my first asylum request. I can’t return to my country, I have seven mouths to feed.”
Picture 1: Emiljano and one of his sons holding their daily meal in their hands
Kastriot Hasa (59) left Albania due the inadequate health care in Albania. Balkanist met with him in April last year. “I am diabetic and I am disabled”, said Hasa. He explains that by requesting asylum in Europe he’s able to receive free medical help up until he’s deported from The Netherlands. For Hasa the lack of specialised medical care in Albania forced him to leave.
In May 2016 Balkanist met with Edisan (22) on a plane chartered by the Dutch Government to expel 30 Albanians from the Netherlands. The flight was the first ever deportation flight to a European country from the Netherlands. Edisan told Balkanist that he has previously request asylum in Germany, but after he saw that he would be expelled to Albania, he tried to enter Britain illegally from the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
“I have about 50 friends and people I know who left to Britain,” said Edisan, “some of my friends are working in construction sector, others are cleaning cars. Easy work and it pays well.” He keeps in touch with friends and fellow migrants who have reached England through Facebook.
“In Albania there is no work. And if you find a job, it will pay you nothing. This is a country of corruption, you have to pay for everything . Everyone wants to leave Albania.”
In 2015 Edisan made his first attempt to illegally enter Britain via the French port of Calais. “I managed to save 800 euros. For 10 days I tried every day to climb into a lorry truck. But it was useless, the driver would spot us every time. After 10 days I run out of money.”
Edisan said he had underestimated the risks and the chances of success. “Cops told me that others had successfully reached Britain. Maybe with the help of smugglers. But I had no money to pay them. There are Albanians who pay 7,500 Euros to get smuggled into Britain. Some of them would go to the bank to take a loan to finance the trip, or borrow some money from family already in Britain.”
In Dieppe, a port city in the North-West of France, around 150 Albanian migrant lived in large white tents at a cliff close to the port. This improvised camp was used as a base from which they would make attempts to cross the border into Britain by crawling under parked lorry trucks in the cover of night.
Picture 2: Balkanist interviewing three Albanian migrants. They requested their faces not be pictured out of fear of being recognised back home.
“[It’s] a terrible life. Couldn’t be worse. We’re making a big sacrifice to be here for a better life,” said one migrant who did not wish to be identified, “All the people living in this camp are Albanians.’’
“We want to go to a place where there is work so we can have a normal life. I have studied history and geography. I was a teacher back home for three years.”
“I think a lot of Albania and about the family and friends I left behind,” said the migrant, “but politics have brought us here. If you think about what waits for you in Albania, this gives you hope. You’re lucky to move and work in a foreign country. If we can’t work during this age, where and when are we going to work?Our friends have tried to pass via The Netherlands, Belgium and Calais. We try to climb under the aces of the trucks, between the wheels. Some of our friends broke their feet, but we have to try.”
Other means of migration have also seen an increase alongside illegal migration and asylum request. The US Diversity Visa program, more popularly known as “the Green card lottery”, has seen an uptick in the number of applicants. The DV program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually. Individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the US are elegible for the program. . Comparing 2011 to 2015, the number of applicants has increased by 227%.
According to Economist Dritan Shano, the failing fiscal policy of Albania is haunting the economy, along withthe lack of trust in the political institutions in the country. As a result Albanians are leaving in droves.“The high number of asylum requests have to do with the lack of trust the Albanian people have in the future, the political class, and the economy. The idea that politicians can do what they want and stay unpunished is hard to accept for Albanian citizens”, said Shano. “On top of that you can see convicted criminals are present on all levels of the Public Administration in Albania. There where problems with convicted Member of Parliaments being part of the administration or being elected as a mayor.”
“Our small unstructured economy has also a very huge unemployment problem. In Albania there is a chronically high unemployment rate of about 18 percent, while for young people under 30 this is 33 percent. A lot of people are unemployed staying at home as they have no prospects of finding a job quickly. This Is also the case for businessman who see their future being grim in Albania. That’s why Albanians leave hearth and home, because they believe they’ll have better prospects in a country with more stability.”