The Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has accused the UK of making his country’s nationals scapegoats for Britain’s crime and border problems.
“Targeting Albanians (as some shamefully did when fighting for Brexit) as the cause of Britain’s crime and border problems makes for easy rhetoric but ignores hard fact,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
“Repeating the same things and expecting different results is insane (ask Einstein!).”
Rama went on to warn the UK over “a rhetoric of crime”, saying his country was ready to cooperate with Britain as long as it was based on “facts” and “mutual respect”.
The prime minister did not mention anyone by name, but his outburst comes two days after the British interior minister sparked a furore by referring in parliament to “stopping the invasion on our southern coast”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said many of an estimated 40,000 arrivals on England’s south coast in small boats this year were either “facilitated by” or “actual members of criminal gangs”.
“So, let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress,” she told the House of Commons.
UK ministers and officials have claimed that large numbers of Albanians have arrived recently in small boats, and that many are either members or victims of international crime gangs.
On Twitter, the Albanian prime minister sought to challenge the image of his countrymen.
“70% of the 140,000 Albanians who have moved to the UK were living in Italy and Greece.1200 of them are Business people. Albanians in the UK work hard and pay tax. UK should fight the crime gangs of all nationalities and stop discriminating v Albanians to excuse policy failures,” Edi Rama said.
Praising work accomplished in dismantling crime gangs, Braverman told parliament on Monday that “this year has seen a surge in the number of Albanian arrivals, many of them I’m afraid to say abusing our modern slavery laws”.
The government was working to ensure Albanian cases were processed and individuals quickly removed, she added.
Last week a committee of MPs was told there had been a “very significant increase” in adult single men arriving from Albania.
Dan O’Mahoney, the UK’s senior official charged with combatting illegal migration across the Channel, described the rise in the number of Albanians as “exponential” and said the influx was “50-50 an asylum problem and an illegal migration problem”.
The British government is seeking to return thousands of people who arrive in small boats, pledging this summer to work closely with Albania to remove rapidly those who had entered the country illegally.
It has described Albania as a “safe and prosperous country” and has faced criticism over asylum claims from the EU applicant country, as well as the number of people who have been returned.
But the UK asylum system has been hit by severe delays, with a reported backlog of 100,000 cases awaiting decisions. The government has also been criticised over conditions at an overcrowded site in Kent, where many new arrivals in small boats are initially taken.
Edi Rama said Britain should look to the example of Germany which had “tightened its own systems”.
“The UK can and should do the same not respond with a rhetoric of crime that ends up punishing the innocent,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Ready to work closer with UK but facts are crucial. So is mutual respect,” he added.
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Monday that three suspected smugglers, suspected of trying to take Albanian migrants across the English Channel by boat, had been arrested the previous day in a joint operation with Belgian authorities.
Two men based in southern England were arrested when they arrived on the Belgian coast. Twelve migrants, believed to be Albanian, were also arrested, the NCA statement said.