Tory immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been accused of verbally “lynching” Albania after he shared a video praised the work of UK officials trying to “get them back to Tirana.”
Albanian foreign minister Olta Xhacka said she was shocked by the language used by Mr Jenrick in the Home Office clip about removal of failed asylum seekers and offenders.
Saying it was a “shameful” attempt at chasing “miserable votes”, she tweeted: “A verbal lynching of a whole nation in language that sounds like the minister is declaring open season on Albanians.”
Ms Xhacka said it was a “shameful singling out of a community from a minister of a great democracy that brings back horrifying memories with an unbearable brutality”.
The foreign minister also noted that Mr Jenrick’s video came after both governments put out a joint communique last month which praised the “vibrant Albanian diaspora in the UK”.
Mr Jenrick’s video was filmed at a Home Office removal centre ahead of a deportation flight to Tirana. The immigration said some on the flight were “dangerous criminals”.
“I’ve been meeting the fantastic staff who are working round the clock to find the Albanians, to detain them, to put them on to coaches, to take them to the airport and get them back to Tirana,” he said.
Last month Rishi Sunak announced a deal with Albania to allow the return of migrants to the country within 31 days of arrival in the UK, as the government tries to crack down on migrant boats coming across the English Channel.
Upwards of 10,000 Albanians have arrived through this route to seek asylum last year, making up nearly a quarter of the record 44,000 people who made the dangerous journey.
Mr Sunak claimed that the “vast majority” of Albanian nationals arriving in the UK without visas will be removed immediately to their homeland. But the flight announced by Mr Jenrick was not part of the agreement.
The deal followed sharp criticism from Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, who accused home secretary Suella Braverman’s of “insane” anti-migrant rhetoric and “discriminating” against Albanians to distract from her own policy failures.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly later said he had a “very frank” conversation with Mr Rama about the row “because we have a very good working relationship”.
More than half of migrants who claimed to be victims of modern slavery after crossing the Channel in the first half of last year were Albanian, figures suggest.
Home Office data obtained under freedom of information (FOI) laws indicate 1,156 people were recorded as making such a claim between January and June 2022. Of these, 591 were Albanian.
A government spokesperson said: “We value our Albanian community in the UK, and continue to welcome Albanians who travel here legally and contribute significantly to British society.
“However last year we saw large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK through illegal means, and this is placing further strain on our asylum system.”
The spokesperson added: “We are always working extremely closely with our Albanian partners on a range of issues and this includes excellent operational collaboration with Albanian law enforcement, and our readmissions agreement which has already seen over 1,000 Albanian foreign national offenders and others returned.”