An Albanian man who was taken to Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow airport last week has been told he faces imminent deportation, the day after the Home Office announced plans to fast-track the removal of refused Albanian asylum seekers.
The man, who claimed asylum in the UK a decade ago, has no criminal record, has never absconded and says he has consistently complied with immigration requirements by reporting fortnightly to the Home Office. His two children were born in the UK and have leave to remain.
“It’s like I have a knee in my neck, like they are suffocating me,” he said, speaking from the removal centre. “They came to search the restaurant where I was helping out, more than 10 of them, all wearing uniforms. They said they have a tipoff that an illegal staff member is here and started asking people about me. They gave me no explanation, just taking me to [the] police station, holding me there and then to the immigration centre. They treat me like an animal.”
The man, who is being held on immigration charges after his appeal rights were exhausted, says he has a right to family life as his children were born in the UK and have leave to remain. He believes the Home Office is unfairly targeting Albanians.
“The whole of this place [Harmondsworth] is full of Albanians. It looks like they’re rounding us up to put us on a charter [flight] out of here. The guy I’m sharing a cell with, over half the wing, they are Albanians.
“It went through my mind that this is [a] revenge against us. It looks like the government are finding loopholes to take us out. Everyone is so distressed and scared – we don’t know what will happen to us.”
On Thursday, the Home Office announced a deal with the Albanian government, which aims to remove refused asylum seekers “as soon as possible” amid a rise in the number of small boat arrivals from Albania.
The latest figures released by the Home Office show 2,165 Albanians arrived in the UK on small boats in the first six months of 2022, compared with 23 in the same period last year. Of all those who entered the UK through this route, more than half (51%) were from three nationalities, with Albanians and Afghans each accounting for 18% of arrivals.
The Home Office plans aim to deter those seeking to cross the Channel by issuing warnings that they will not have the right to live or work in the UK and may face increased prison sentences for immigration offences.
According to the Home Office, Albania is a “safe and prosperous country” and many nationals “are travelling through multiple countries to make the journey to the UK” before making “spurious asylum claims when they arrive”.
Home Office figures released on Thursday show about half of all Albanians seeking asylum are granted refugee status. Data shows 21 people have been forcibly removed on the grounds of being “inadmissible” for asylum since Brexit, despite ministers widening the scope of that rule.
Under the new plans, Albanian police officers will be brought to the Kent coast to observe migrant arrivals and share intelligence with the British government. The department has not confirmed when the proposals will be rolled out.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The British public should be in no doubt of our determination to remove those with no right to be in the UK. We have already removed almost 1,000 Albanian foreign national offenders and immigration offenders this year so far, including some who crossed the Channel illegally to come to the UK.
“Under plans announced this week, people coming through this route will have their asylum claims processed immediately, with those who have no right to be in the UK being removed as soon as possible.”