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20 February 2018 – On the occasion of a visit by the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos to Tirana on 11 and 12 February, a draft status agreement for operational cooperation between the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) and Albania, represented by its Minister of the Interior, Fatmir Xhafaj, was initialled.
This is the first operational agreement of FRONTEX in the Western Balkans region; so far, the Agency has had only an observation mission. Its entry into force will be effective as soon as it is endorsed by the European Member States and the competent Albanian institutions.
For the Albanian authorities, this “agreement” is a response to the fear regularly expressed since the closure of the “Balkan route” in 2016, of seeing their country become the forced destination of migrants diverted from their way to the EU, whereas the capacity of the country to receive migrants is almost zero.
For FRONTEX – and the European authorities – it is a prospect of being able to reinforce effectively the security of the EU’s external borders in order to respond to “possible migration challenges“, in a context where the Agency is observing a marked decrease in the number of crossings, as shown by the figures published in its most recent report. This will be, in particular, the culmination of the effective control of the “circular route” between Albania and Greece, which continues to be used by migrants.
Illegal border crossing in the Western Balkan route
12 178 in 2017 / 130 261 (in 2016)
Pakistan 4 355
Afghanistan 3 388
Circular route from Albania to Greece
6 396 in 2017 / 5 121 (in 2016)
Source FRONTEX : Risk analysis for 2018 ; p.18
For the Albanians, the news will obviously be much less positive since it means that monitoring of the passages to the EU will be increased. However, in 2017, with 25,512 asylum applications, nationals of this country form the seventh largest group of applicants registered in the EU.
It is true that these requests rarely lead to a recognition of status (less than 5% in recent years), this country being considered “safe” by many European countries, in line with the desiderata of the European Commission.
Albanians, who are often refused the right to asylum, and who exceed the authorized duration of short stay, often find themselves the preferred targets for the reinforcement of the policy of returns desired by the European Commission and to which Tirana contributes actively, in return for the visa exemption obtained in December 2010.
Let us hope that the prospect of EU membership, however distant, can only stimulate Albania’s efforts to monitor border flows!
In the medium term, the example of Albania should be followed by Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And this is how the EU’s external walls are progressively being buttressed.
For more information :
- European Commission: Border management: European Border and Coast Guard Agency strengthens operational cooperation with Albania, Press release, 12 February 2018- http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-742_en.htm