Why are people fleeing Albania? Home Office figures show 27% of UK modern slavery victims are Albanian

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After Home Secretary Suella Braverman questioned whether Albanians could be victims of modern slavery, we reveal how Albanian has always been one of the most common nationalities among victims of slavery and trafficking in the UK.

More than a quarter of modern slavery victims identified in the UK are Albanian nationals, analysis of Home Office figures reveals.

It comes after new Home Secretary Suella Braverman appeared to pour scorn on the idea that people travelling to the UK from the ‘safe’ Eastern European nation could be human trafficking or slavery victims, telling Parliament on Monday (31 October): “I really am circumspect of those claims”.

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Albania is not at war and its security situation is categorised as “generally good” by the UK Foreign Office in advice issued to British travellers. But the country also has a significant problem with organised crime and corruption, with strong ties between criminal organisations, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies, according to the Global Organised Crime Index by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

The UK Government itself recognises that Albanian men, women and children are at risk of being trafficked internationally, and that the number of citizens who have been trafficked “is likely to be in the thousands”.

Organisations such as the police, Border Force, councils, and select charities can refer potential victims of modern slavery into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the UK’s programme for identifying and supporting slavery and trafficking victims.

How many modern slavery victims in the UK are from Albania?

Home Office figures show 4,171 potential slavery and trafficking victims were referred into the NRM between April and June this year – 1,130 (27%) of them Albanian nationals, not including dual nationals. When it comes to adult victims alone, Albanians made up 40% of referrals, or 910 out of 2,268 victims.

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The number of Albanian nationals over the three months was the highest since the NRM programme began. But end-of-year figures for 2019, 2020 and 2021 show Albanian has always been one of the three most common nationalities among victims – and the most common every year if UK nationals are excluded.

Albanians have always been one of the top nationalities among modern slavery victims in the UK (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall)Albanians have always been one of the top nationalities among modern slavery victims in the UK (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall)
Albanians have always been one of the top nationalities among modern slavery victims in the UK (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall) | NationalWorld/Mark Hall

The same figures show that the vast majority of people referred to the NRM are judged to be genuine victims of slavery or trafficking following a Home Office assessment. While these figures are not broken down by nationality, mathematically this would also mean that the majority of Albanians are judged as genuine.

Once a victim is referred, one of two Home Office authorities – the Single Competent Authority (SCA) or the Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority (IECA) – must make an initial ‘reasonable grounds decision’ within five days, to judge if they are likely a slavery or trafficking victim, before a more rigorous and lengthy ‘conclusive grounds decision’.

In the year to June, 14,377 such reasonable grounds decisions were made, of which 12,882 (90%) were positive (likely a victim) and 1,495 were negative (may not be a victim). During the same period, 3,571 Albanian nationals entered the NRM. Even if all 1,495 negative decisions were Albanian nationals, the majority of Albanians would still have been judged as genuine victims.

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For conclusive grounds decisions, 92% of all decisions were positive in the last 12 months, The IECA, which deals with potential victims who are under threat of deportation or who are held in immigrantion removal centres, made positive decisions in 97% of cases in the six months to June, since it was created.

The figures show Albanians referred into the system are most likely to have been victims of labour or criminal exploitation. The former includes people in forced labour such as in farming or car washes, while the latter could see victims forced to beg, pickpocket, cultivate cannabis or deal drugs, possibly under threat of violence by their enslavers – often organised criminal gangs. According to a 2021 report from the National Crime Agency, Albanians are increasingly being exploited in forced cannabis farming.

‘We’re treating vulnerable people as criminals’

Suella Braverman has faced criticism for her incendiary remarks on immigration, telling MPs on Monday that there was “an invasion on our Southern coast”, adding that “people coming from safe countries are not welcome”.

“Some 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast this year alone, many of them facilitated by criminal gangs, some of them actual members of criminal gangs,” she said. “So let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows that this is not true.” The arrivals she was referring to were people of all nationalities, not just Albanian.

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Andrew Wallis OBE, chief executive of anti-slavery charity Unseen, said his charity and others had repeatedly asked the Home Office for evidence that the system is awash with fake slavery claims, but that “so far we’ve seen nothing from them”.

“Indeed the Home Office’s own figures show their decision-making process finds that up to 97% of identified victims are genuine with their claims,” he said. “To put out sweeping, spurious claims without facts or context is dangerous and irresponsible. The result is we’re treating vulnerable people as criminals when they most need our help, and distracting attention from the real criminals behind slavery and trafficking.”

On Albanians specifically, Braverman also made claims that arrivals were “abusing our modern slavery laws”, and that the Home Office is working to remove them “as swiftly as possible”.

She added: “I note that we see a large number of Albanian migrants arriving here and claiming to be victims of modern slavery. Again I really am circumspect of those claims. If those victims are genuinely victims of modern slavery they should be claiming that protection in Albania.”

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Government guidance issued by the UK Visas and Immigration office for assessing asylum and human rights applications from Albanians in relation to trafficking states: “Albania is a source country for the trafficking of women, men and children to other European countries, including the UK.

“Most are trafficked by close family members or people they have close social ties [with], including those with links to criminal networks. Victims are often lured into trafficking by promises of marriage or employment, although coercion is sometimes used.”

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It also says that while the Albanian government has made progress to put in place policies to tackle trafficking and support victims, “there has been a gap [in] effectively implementing these measures”.

There has been a significant increase in the number of Albanian national victims referred to the NRM in the last year, according to the Home Office data, with numbers almost doubling from 1,876 in the year to June 2021, to 3,571 in the year to June 2022. The overall number of referrals was up by just 26% in the same period.

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During that time, Albanians have gone from making up 16% of victims, to 24%. The majority of victims in the latest three-month period were referred by Immigration Enforcement.

While the majority of Albanians referred between April and June were adult men, there were also 110 females, including at least nine exploited as children. UK Visas and Immigration recognises that female victims may find it particularly difficult to return to Albania, as much of the country is governed by a strict code of honour leaving women and girls who have been trafficked facing “discrimination and stigma, and a risk of re-trafficking”.

A 2018 report from the University of Bedfordshire and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concluded there were multiple, overlapping factors that could make Albanians vulnerable to trafficking, including poverty and economic factors, low levels of education, mental health issues, and forced marriage.

NationalWorld asked the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) – two government first responders on slavery and trafficking – why the UK had seen such a big rise in Albanian modern slavery victims, but neither provided a comment.

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The charity Migrant Help said while Albania has consistently been one of the highest-ranking nationalities in terms of referrals over the last 10 years, “it is not clear why there might be an above-average spike for this last year”.

The confidential UK Modern Slavery and Exploitation helpline can be contacted on 08000 121 700. It is free of charge and open 24 hours, seven days a week for both victims and people concerned about potential victims.

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