Challenges of Migration and Asylum in Albania

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European Movement in Albania in partnership with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, with the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of European Integration organized on April 11, 2016 the second and third session of the Working Group II addressing the topic: “Challenges of Migration and Asylum in Albania”.

Mr. Jan Rudolph,Director of Political, Economic and Information Section at the EU Delegation in Albania, during his speech gave the necessary attention to cooperation between the state and civil society organizations concerning the crisis of refugees and immigrants. “The situation remains problematic”, – Mr. Rudolph said,-“that only in the first 3 months of 2016 have died over 700 people coming to the EU”. Also, he analyzed the lesser possibilities to turn Albania into a transitory or a host country, but still the state structures should be well-prepared in cooperation with the European institutions that are monitoring the situation. Mr. Rudolph gave a clear picture of the current policies undertaken by the European Union, as the European Agenda on Migration, based on four pillars: 1. Reducing illegal migration trends, 2.Saving lives and secure borders, 3.Strengthen the common asylum policy, 4.Developing a new policy on legal migration. In conclusion, Mr. Rudolph cited the EU plan to redistribute 160 thousand refugees, as well as Turkey-EU agreement that aims to stop illegal immigration from Turkey. He stressed the importance of the migration policies related to chapters 23-24 of the negotiation process with the Balkan countries, including Albania. Reforms within these chapters to be opened first and closed last are indispensable and cannot be postponed;a typical example is the Justice reform. Finally, he called for a deeper engagement of the Albanian state and the relevant authorities to reduce irregular migration of its citizens to EU countries as a way to fully respect the conditions that come from visa liberalization.

In his remarks, Mr. Gledis Gjipali, Executive Director of the European Movement in Albania presented to participants the one-year set up mechanism of the Convention for European Integration.  He paid attention to the activities undertaken, the reached success, and expectations for the following activities. According to Mr. Gjipali, this initiative does notaim only the organization of the roundtable discussions, but first of all is furthering the integration process into the European Union, together with all the interested stakeholders and actors. He said, – “In our country the culture of cooperation is weak, so that the EMA’s efforts are positive practices to establish cooperation and a constant dialogue. If there is broad participation from all groups and actors including then there will be a rapid opening of negotiations for Albania and Albanians”. The Executive Director of EMA accepted that the reform is a comprehensive one that affects everyone.  The Convention has a specific focus on the creation of working groups for chapters 23 and 24, which will be drawn during the proceedings of the joint recommendations and practical matters, such as political and technical actors, as well as the general public.

Mrs. Alma Mele, Director of the Asylum in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reflected the current Albanian legislation concerning migration and asylum. According to her, Albania has completed the necessary legal framework and updated the Law on Asylum in October 2014 supported by EU Directives. Moreover, it is supplemented by decisions of the Council of Ministers and other legal acts, as DCM 346 on biometric identification card for all those who have attained refugee status. On the other hand, DCM 513 on determining the criteria, rules and procedures for foreigners in Albania or DCM on the list of the third countries is part of the Albanian legislation in line with the EU acquis. Mrs. Mele assessed the decision to establish the National Commission for Asylum and Refugees, which will be the first administrative instance on the issue in Albania. The number of asylum applications in 2016 decreased compared with the period 2013-2015 that had a very high growth. In 2014 were about 106 asylum seekers in Albania, while so far this year there has been only 5 applications for asylum in our country. The most common countries of origin of the refugees were Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and Eritrea. Any asylum seeker has been provided an interpreter and free legal assistance, and accommodation equipped with basic living conditions and hygiene. In conclusion, she stressed that the Ministry of Interior as well as other authorities have extensive relationship and cooperation with international organizations and civil society as UNHCR, the Red Cross or RMSA.

Mrs. Alexandra Malangone, representative of the organization Slovak League of Human Rights stressed that as in the case of Albania, in Slovakia the number of asylum seekers decreased by 2016 (with only 10 applications for asylum in the 3 months period), compared with 2015 there were 313 requests. Slovakia is affected by the phenomenon “compassion deficit”, a characteristic of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Slovakia has received a small number of refugee quotas which is about 20 % lower than the acceptance criteria set by the EU. Slovak state set the criteria to accept 200 refugees on condition that they were of the Christian faith, but later it withdrew from this decision. So far, they received 500 refugees from a camp in Austria which was overflowing. In cooperation with the Church they will accept 149 Iraqi Christians from the occupied territories by ISIS. Mrs. Malangone suggested that Albania as a country that does not have adequate capacity to receive refugees and to keep them, can play the role of a transit country that harbors and trains refugees for a certain time until they move to their final destination. In cooperation with IOM, UNHCR, Slovakia held refugees who may have applied to the US, by training them; making courses for 6 months and sent them to the countries where they have applied. If one of the EU countries has a large influx of migrants, all other countries need help or contribute to this country. For most EU countries deportation would be one of the most desirable spots, because of the illegal immigration is another aspect.

Mr. Hortenc Balla, from the Office of Legal Protection, UNHCR said that is very important “principle of non-refoulement” during the process, which means that refugees and illegal immigrants should not be returned to the territories where their life, dignity and integrity is threatened. He emphasized that this principle includes those countries that are not direct their country of origin, but that can still turn back refugees or maltreat them. “Despite that refugees see our country as a transit country, most of them dream Germany,” said Mr. Balla, – “Seeing this response, the relevant institutions should make clear that it is impossible to travel from our country to Germany.” Albania has made progress in the implementation of legislation and update it through time. Mr. Balla notifies specifically the priorities for refugees’ status, recognition of rights and provision of the necessary documentation from state institutions.

Mrs. EnkeledaToska, representative of the General Director of Border and Migration opened her speech by emphasizing changes in European migration policies from open door policy to the closed doors, which have an impact in Albania. She also explained that there are mixed migration groups, such as those who need protection andthe group seeking asylum for economic reasons. According to her, the opening or closing of the Balkan Route and the change of EU policy directly affects the growing number of refugees who were directedtowards Albania. Albania offers accommodation in two reception centers such as the National Center for Asylum in Babru and the other in Karrec. Mrs. Toska hinted the necessity for an emergent response if the number increases. In 2016 are about 287 refugees who have come from Greece, in Albania border there were arrested 147 foreign immigrants, such as the Moroccan, Syrian, Somali, Iraqi passing through the green border. State Policy measures are directed towards the increase and the exchange of information on technical and strategic framework, especially with Frontex and with neighboring countries such as Macedonia and Greece. The increased  cooperation among CSO-s such as UNHCR in planning reception centers, admission or registration of refugees, is assessed positively. Also, another added value worth mentioning is the introduction of languages such as Arabic, Persian and Pashtu in the registration form and during the interview with refugees. The unique number of the residence permit card and preparation of a biometric residence permit is another measure being undertaken by the Albanian authorities. It is foreseen further harmonization of a set of amendments to the Law on Foreigners in order to align it more closely with European legislation and requirements of the situation.

Director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, Mrs.Erida Skëndaj during her presentation referred cases Albanians requests for asylum, with an emphasis on identifying violations of their rights and discrimination. In order to manage the situation of illegal migration and it is required analysis and research in understanding the causes of  Albanian citizens deciding to leave their country and seeking asylum in other countries. One main reason is the economic challenge, although in these cases the majority were returned once their asylum claim was rejected. Mrs. Skëndaj said that there are other times when the request for asylum is accepted as cases of discrimination, prejudice or persecution suffered by the communities and minorities such as Roma or Egyptians in Albania, but also for the LGBT community. Feud is another factor that can be accepted by the EU countries as a reason to accept asylum. For Mrs. Skëndaj it is true that Albania is the second country with the largest number of asylum seekers, but on the other hand it remains first with the highest number of request that have been received. Director of AHC suggested the need for a more effective network of interaction and cooperation. AHC is implementing the initiative of the Legal Clinic and has offered free legal services to Albanian citizens in need.

The discussion sessions were moderated by Ms. Mona Xhexhaj, Project Coordinator of the Convention on European Integration. The meeting was followed by interventions, comments and questions from participants.