Press Release

UNHCR strengthens its support for refugees and asylum-seekers in Albania

22 March 2024

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, continues its support to the Albanian authorities in managing the mixed movements of refugees and migrants at the country’s borders. The goal is to ensure that individuals seeking international protection access asylum procedures efficiently and those with specific needs are identified and referred to the relevant national services. This includes children who arrive without their parents or guardians and those unaccompanied and separated who are one of the most at-risk groups arriving at Albania’s borders.

Increasingly around the world, mixed movements occur where refugees and migrants travel along the same routes across land and sea borders. Refugees are specifically defined and protected in international law. These are individuals who have fled their homes to escape persecution, conflict, violence, serious human rights violations or other events seriously disturbing public order, and who seek safety in another country. As a result, they require “international protection” from another country, where their own country of origin is unable or willing to protect them. 

Such mixed movements in the Western Balkans are generally comprised of people who have previously transited through a number of countries, including European Union (EU) Member States where they could have sought international protection (and in some instances, may have been granted international protection). Many are compelled to move onward when faced with delays in asylum procedures and/or lack of local integration prospects. Others may intend to join family members in other EU countries or even for perceived better living conditions elsewhere. 

A UNHCR partner staff, counselling new arrivals on the Albanian border about asylum procedures, shares the following narrative from a Syrian refugee:

‘I'm from Idlib, Syria. When war started in Syria in 2011, I was 16 years old. One day, while I was around my father’s shop, there was a bombing and that is the day I lost my father. I left on a boat journey with many others on a cold day. I left my wife and daughter with my family, hoping they could join me in a safer place later. The journey was hard and scary. I'm not sure what will happen on this journey, but my dream is to find a safe place.’

In 2023, according to UNHCR protection monitoring data, 4,307 persons arrived at Albania’s borders in mixed movements. This is almost half the number from 2022. More than half came from countries such Afghanistan and Syrian Arab Republic, making up 21% and 20% of the arrivals respectively. Even though fewer people arrived in 2023, the percentage of people who were referred to the asylum process by Albanian authorities increased to 6.5%, up from 2% in 2022. This shows how important it is to have robust asylum systems in place, even during periods of fewer arrivals, to ensure that individuals seeking international protection can access the asylum procedures efficiently.

The legal framework in Albania has made notable progress towards aligning with international and EU standards. However, as with any evolving system, there are opportunities for further enhancement. This includes improving the safeguards in the preliminary screening process to help identify new arrivals in need of protection, better implementing referral mechanisms, particularly for individuals with specific needs, and advancing the professional knowledge and skills of practitioners.

The Strategy for UNHCR Engagement in Mixed Movement in the Western Balkans is the guiding framework for the UNHCR’s work in Albania. This strategy outlines how UNHCR supports national authorities in the Western Balkans in managing the mixed movements to ensure those in need can access international protection and necessary services efficiently. 

In Albania, the focus of UNHCR's support includes: i) providing communities with information on asylum procedures and available services, ii) offering technical support to relevant local authorities in identifying individuals with specific needs, and iii) strengthening the capacities of relevant local authorities. 

UNHCR partners, Caritas Albania and People’s Advocate, are present at entry points on the border. They provide information to communities in a language they understand. This ensures that anyone who wishes to seek asylum or has specific needs can access relevant and updated information about asylum procedures and available services.

The following is a statement from an Afghan family of six, conveyed to a UNHCR partner staff on the border, after being counselled on their rights and referred to the asylum process.

’ I’m here with my family - my wife and our four precious children, three boys and a girl. We were forced to leave Afghanistan due to ethnic discrimination. Over the last three years, we’ve had to cross many borders. I’ve agreed to work in numerous precarious jobs, all to provide for my family. We’re just seeking a chance to fit in and build a safer life.’

Through its field presence and partner staff, UNHCR supports the Albanian Border and Migration Police in identifying individuals with specific needs, including people with disabilities and unaccompanied or separated children. This collaboration ensures proactive identification and support for these individuals, using prevention and response mechanisms available through public institutions and UNHCR’s NGO partner, Refugee and Migrant Services in Albania (RMSA). The support provided includes services such as medical care, legal assistance, housing, and education.

UNHCR strengthens the capacities of the Border and Migration Police, by providing training and resources. Recent initiatives like the series of workshops organized by the Frontex Fundamental Rights Office in collaboration with UNHCR and the European Union Agency for Asylum, aim to enhance the understanding of international protection and asylum procedures.

An informative session on Albanian asylum law by UNHCR in Korca
Caption: An informative session on Albanian asylum law by UNHCR in Korca on 11 March, part of a workshop series organized by the Frontex Fundamental Rights Office and the European Union Agency for Asylum to enhance understanding of international protection and asylum procedures.
Photo: © UNHCR in Albania

Central to UNHCR’s engagement is its collaboration and partnership with the relevant national authorities at various levels, including EU agencies, and local NGOs. A notable example of this collaboration is the ‘IPA III Regional support to protection-sensitive migration management in Western Balkans and Turkey’ project. In Albania, UNHCR collaborates with European Union Agency for Asylum, Frontex, and Internatioanl Organization for Migration as part of this EU-funded multi-country programme.

Moving forward, strengthening collaboration with the relevant authorities at all levels and other partners to ensure efficient access to asylum procedures for individuals seeking international remains key to UNHCR. At the Global Refugee Forum 2023, Albania pledged to decentralizing asylum procedures and ensuring high-quality asylum decisions. UNHCR will persist in its support to fulfil these pledges.

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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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