BBC: Albanian prisoners are paid 1500 pounds by Britain to return to Albania

2023-05-17 08:54:54Aktualitet SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX
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Albanian authorities have confirmed that the majority of Albanians forcibly returned home from Great Britain this year were convicted of crimes there. The BBC has spoken to Albanians who returned to their homeland and learned that some prisoners were offered £1,500 to leave and some plan to return.

Every week, a small crowd gathers at the barbed wire fence located at the back of Albania's Tirana airport. Deportation flights to Albania have increased since the country signed a joint cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom last December to "suppress and deter illegal migration."

The UK government's Home Office says more than 1,000 people have returned since then: around half of them voluntarily, the rest a combination of failed asylum seekers and foreign offenders.

The BBC spoke to dozens of people on some of these deportation flights last month and found that most came from UK prisons. Some had been offered money in exchange for accepting deportation and were released from prison before serving their minimum sentences under an existing scheme used for foreign offenders.

Albanian police confirmed that most of those forcibly returned this year were convicted of crimes in Britain.

A 30-year-old man said he had served a six-year sentence for drug offenses and was released for deportation after committing just two of them, a year before he would have been eligible for parole.

He asked to remain anonymous, so the BBC called him Mark.

"The immigration officer came to meet us," he said.

"They ask you if you want to go back [to Albania] or stay in the UK. They explained that if you come back, you get a year off your sentence."

Mark was also offered £1,500 in financial support to return home under a special scheme called the Facilitated Return Scheme (FRS).

A UK government document makes clear that the scheme is "a financial incentive" offered to foreign prisoners "provided they cooperate with deportation and waive their right to appeal against it".

Other prisoners the BBC spoke to on deportation flights last month were given the same amount.

Mark was deported under the UK Early Release Scheme (ERS), used for foreign prisoners of all nationalities. The ERS does not require consent from prisoners, but several Albanian deportees we spoke to, including Mark, said their deportation and reduced sentence were voluntary.

"It was my choice to return," Marku told me. "Nobody forced me. They offered me. They told me: "You decide whether you will go or stay."

"I'm not going back there," he said. "I will not go to prison. Now I'm going to look for a job, I'm going to be a good boy."

But some of those on deportation flights last month said they were planning to return to the UK within weeks or even days, despite what many described as a new hard-line approach by police there.

"They are rounding up the Albanians now," said one man. "It is very difficult for Albanians to stay in the United Kingdom because the police stop you on the street. They don't want us now."

He said that he had returned to Albania after the police stopped the car he was in and discovered that he was without documents. He is still planning to return. Another man said he had already been to Britain three times. "Its not a problem for me. "I'll be back when I want you."

Azemi, not his real name, told his story on condition of anonymity. On a disused railway line above a beautiful river immersed in the rolling landscape outside Tirana, Azemi spoke with trembling hands. He showed documents detailing his departure from the UK and the rejection of his asylum claim.

"I am afraid because the same situation can be repeated," he said.

"I stayed silent, I don't smile, I'm stressed and my body shakes all the time, I don't sleep much," he added.

The Albanian police have recently increased the controls at the country's border points, to catch deportees on the black list who try to cross. The increase in cooperation between the UK and Albania has coincided with a sharp decline in the number of Albanians arriving in small boats; only 29 were discovered in the first months of this year.

Much of this decline is likely to be seasonal, and with winter weather easing, both governments are facing the first real test of their approach to tackling irregular migration.