On Saturday, news agencies reported that 55 Syrian migrants had been brought back to land after hours on a boat in rough seas. The Syrians had been attempting to reach Italy.
Police in the Albanian town of Vlorë, told the news agency Agence France Presse, (AFP) that the group of 55 migrants, which included women and children, were trapped on an inflatable dinghy for more than three hours in rough seas on the Adriatic Sea separating Albania from the eastern Italian coast.
"The rescue operation and evacuation of the people on board took place in very bad conditions in the midst of a storm and high waves at sea," said a statement from the police on Saturday, January 9 and reported by AFP. The news agency said that 16 of the passengers on board were hospitalized, including three children.
Increase in numbers of migrants arriving in Albania
As other countries bordering or en route to the EU have stepped up surveillance at their borders, Albania has become an increasingly popular transit country on the so-called Balkan route. AFP writes that police data shows that the numbers of migrants who were caught trying to cross Albania in 2020 "tripled" compared to the previous year.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)'s operations portal, 12,026 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees were registered as arriving in Albania from December 31, 2019 to January 3, 2021. That is only a couple of thousand less than the much more reported numbers arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the same time period (14,109).
The highest numbers of those arriving in 2020 occurred in September in Albania, with numbers hovering between at least 50 and more than 100 per week ever since.
The news agency AP wrote that the boat had been found in the Vjosa River delta, which is about 100 kilometers south of the capital Tirana. Media portal Balkanweb reported that one of the migrants on board was thought to have called the police, after it became clear that engine trouble and the bad weather meant they were unlikely to get much further.
According to AP, the migrants had allegedly paid €2,000 each to cross the Adriatic towards Italy. The police have not yet found or arrested the traffickers.
Albania works with the European border agency Frontex on its southern borders with Greece. Albania itself is also a source of migrants, with groups regularly crossing into EU countries for work and in search of a better life.
Albanian migrant communities are found all across Europe with popular destinations being the UK, Italy and Germany. In November, 2020, a group of Albanians made it across the Channel between France and the UK to land in England.
In 2019, the Migration Policy Organization published a feature looking at how many unaccompanied Albanian minors were migrating from Albania to Italy because of "family pressures and lack of employment opportunities," in their own country.
According to the Albanian Office of Statistics, which has published figures for immigration and emigration up to 2019, Albania saw 20,753 migrants arrive in the country in 2019 and 43,835 Albanians migrated from Albania to elsewhere.
A transit land
In 2018, the latest figures from the same agency, Albania had identified 6,983 foreigners without papers or a residence permit on its territory. 44.8% of those were Syrians. 4,386 of these asked for asylum in Albania, 49% of those were also Syrian.
The Albanian Office of Statistics said that behind Syrians, Pakistanis were the second most common nationality to arrive in the country, followed by people from Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Algeria and Morocco. The numbers of those arriving in the country without papers had increased quite significantly on the previous year, when just 1,049 people were detected.
The routes from Albania to Italy, as well as from Albania to other EU countries are well-worn and appear to be increasing in use once again.