Spike in Albanian nationals traveling to Britain on small boats

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LONDON — Albanian nationals now make up more than half of all migrants who arrive in the U.K. on small boats across the English Channel, after a huge spike in numbers this summer.

Home Office figures released Thursday revealed 2,156 Albanians were recorded arriving in the U.K. in the first six months of 2022, out of a total of 12,747 people — compared with just 23 Albanians in the same period of the previous year.

But even those figures fail to capture the most recent summer spike. The department said the total number of Albanians to have arrived so far this year is now close to 6,000 and still rising quickly, with nearly six out of 10 migrants in small boats now holding Albanian nationality.

More than half of Albanian asylum applicants — 53 percent — were granted asylum by the Home Office in the year to June, suggesting many are genuine refugees. Those arriving during the huge spike in recent weeks have not yet had their applications processed.

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The Home Office said the spike in the numbers of Albanians arriving in recent weeks could be explained by a combination of factors, including family pull and specific targeting by people smugglers.

After law enforcement officials launched a crackdown on people-smuggling routes across the Continent, organized crime gangs opened up a new Balkan way into Europe via Albania, which has itself experienced a leap in arrivals from those fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

Unlike undocumented migrants from outside Europe, Albanian citizens benefit from freedom of movement throughout the EU, which facilitates their journey across the Continent toward various coastal locations in northern France.

“The significant increase of people making dangerous small boats crossings continues to pressurize the U.K.’s asylum system and our ability to make timely casework decisions,” said Simon Baynes, minister for illegal migration, insisting those traveling through countries deemed “safe” should claim asylum there.

As the data was released, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a deal with the Albanian government to accelerate removals of Albanian nationals who do not have permission to stay in the U.K. A delegation of Albanian state police officers will visit the U.K. next week to boost joint working.

Albanians were rarely seen on small boats in previous years, the Home Office said, with only 898 arrivals in the three years between 2018 and 2021.

As happens every summer, the warm and dry weather has encouraged crossings throughout July and August — but this year arrivals are reaching new highs. Monday alone saw a record 1,295 people in 27 boats being intercepted by British authorities.

More than 22,560 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, and U.K. officials fear the annual figure will surpass last year’s total of 28,526 by a significant amount.

The boats are also now carrying more passengers, increasing their risk of capsizing, according to U.K. officials who said there were an average of 44 people per dinghy this summer — up from 28 last year.