Albania installs British-funded cameras along its border to stem flow of migrants, criminal gangs

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TIRANA, Albania -- Albania has installed a “sophisticated” network of cameras along its border with Kosovo, supplied by the British government in an attempt to stem the number of migrants flowing into the United Kingdom and to track criminal activity in the region, the U.K. home office said Wednesday.

Albanian nationals were among the 45,000 people who arrived in the U.K. in speedboats in 2022, looking for higher-paying jobs than neighboring countries such as Greece or Italy, according to British authorities and the Albanian local media. Many end up working in cannabis-growing houses for up to two years to pay back the trafficking money.

Top British officials had called Albanians’ arrivals “an invasion,” sparking a diplomatic spat with Tirana which accused them of “singling out” Albanians for “political purposes.”

The newly installed network — which cost 1.6 million pounds (1.86 million Euro) — included a fleet of drones and number plate recognition cameras.

The drones will allow authorities to track migrants making their way through the mountainous areas of northern Albania that police find hard to monitor while the cameras will help Albanian systems identify British vehicles used by criminals seeking to avoid detection by the local police, the British embassy in Tirana said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

British Minister for Countering Illegal Migration Michael Tomlinson, who was in Tirana, held talks on Tuesday with Albanian and Kosovar interior ministers, Taulant Balla and Xhelal Svecla respectively, on joint efforts to fight “illegal migration.”

Tomlinson said the partnership with Albania is “a benchmark for how we want to work with partners globally,” adding that almost no Albanians are now arriving in the UK on a small boat.

“We have delivered great results not just in reducing illegal migration to the UK, but also in helping to provide opportunities for Albanian people to stay and prosper in their home country. Our work to stop the boats doesn’t start in the English Channel – it starts at the source,” he said.

Albanians cannot seek asylum status in the U.K.

In 2022, London and Tirana signed an agreement to return Albanians arriving on boats in the U.K. It is believed that thousands have since returned, though official numbers are not available.

Albania — currently in negotiation to join the European Union — has been clamping down on people-smuggling gangs locally, despite not being a primary route for migrants.

In 2019, Albania became the first non-EU member country to have officers of the bloc’s border agency, Frontex, manage its borders in the south and east, which migrants usually cross, and fight cross-border crime.

In February, Albania’s Parliament approved a deal for the country to hold thousands of asylum seekers for Italy.

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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