So far this year, 233,500 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe’s Mediterranean region, compared to 159,410 during the whole of 2022. Several EU states–including the EU’s three largest economies, Germany, France, and Italy–have focused on intensifying detention measures as a tool for responding to these growing challenges, raising concerns about the region’s faltering commitment […]
The numbers of migrants and refugees in Albania have risen in recent years. According to the Department of Border and Migration, 11,344 people were detained at the border between January 2019 and February 2020. The Euro-Med Monitor called on the government of Albania ‘’to immediately undertake necessary measures to provide adequate housing and sufficient food […]
Last updated: October 2021
Albania has experienced significant flows of migrants and refugees crossing from Greece en route to Western Europe. With membership in the European Union a key national priority, the country cooperates closely with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to boost its border controls. Albania has operated a migrant detention centre in Karreç since 2010. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has noted numerous problems at the centre, including lack of access to legal assistance, complaints of mistreatment by detainees, and poor material conditions. The country has also been criticised for not operating separate facilities for unaccompanied minors.
EXCERPT (2021): European Commission, "Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: 2021 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy," 19 October 2021
Legal and irregular migration
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
The Ministry of the Interior is the main actor in the field of migration. The main bodies under its supervision responsible for implementing migration policies are the Department of Border and Migration in the ASP General Directorate and the Directorate of Anti-Trafficking and Migration at the Ministry of Interior. The National Agency for Employment and Skills and its regional directorates also covers services, employment programmes and vocational training programmes for foreigners, stateless persons and refugees.
The legal framework on migration is largely aligned with the EU acquis but needs updating in line with recent developments on the EU side. Albania has readmission agreement with the EU and readmission protocols in place with 12 Member States. A draft additional protocol was sent to the Greek authorities in July 2020 for their consideration. Negotiations on readmission agreements (to return migrants with no right to stay to their country of origin) are ongoing with Russia, while new draft agreements were submitted to the authorities in Algeria India and Pakistan.
The implementation of the national migration strategy and action plan for 2019-2022, providing a clear framework for managing and coordinating migration flows continues and four monitoring reports have been issued. A renewed 2021-2025 national diaspora strategy was adopted in July 2020.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Despite border closure during March-May 2020, Albania continued to experience a growing influx of migrants irregularly crossing the border, mostly coming from Greece and leaving Albania after a few days, on the way to other EU countries. The number of irregular migrants apprehended in Albania in 2020 increased by 13% compared with 2019 (11,970 in 2020 compared to 10,557 in 20197). The nationalities represented most were Syrian, Afghan, Moroccan and Iraqi.
The migrant reception capacity increased slightly in 2019 and 2020 with 18 additional beds added in Kakavija border crossing point by the International Organisation for Migration with EU support. However, the poor condition of the National Centre for Asylum Seekers in Tirana, after years of poor maintenance, has remained unaddressed. Only 30 beds are available out of 180 places. As of 20 August 2020, Albanian reception facilities hosted 20 persons. The only closed reception centre for irregular migrants in Karreç, with a total capacity of 100 beds, also requires refurbishment. Albania has a total capacity of approximately 500 beds. Albania does not have separate facilities for unaccompanied minors. Albania should adopt a contingency plan for a possible substantial number of arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers, with a budget and clear modalities for its triggering.
The overall staffing of the ASP’s Department for Border and Migration is limited (1 638 employees) and needs to be increased. Comprehensive training and joint exercises have been organised for key border officials and frontline officers. However, permanent training structures should be established in compliance with basic training standards for EU border guards. The high turnover of officers continues and should be addressed. Border and Migration Police officers should increase their capacities to identify migrants with specific needs. Coordination with child protection and anti-trafficking departments should also improve. In 2020, there was one case of voluntary return of a Libyan citizen, assisted by the IOM. Reports of migrants being returned to Greece outside a legal and/or procedural framework, without pre-screening, have continued over the reporting period. Albania should apply return procedures in compliance with the Law on foreigners and ensure that its return mechanism for irregular migrants is in line with the EU acquis including the fully respecting fundamental rights.
The readmission agreement with the EU is functioning well, with Albania swiftly honouring requests from Member States for the readmission of both its own and third country nationals. In 2020, 9 760 Albanian nationals were returned from an EU Member State out of 2 3150 who were ordered to leave (a return rate of 42%). Since EU Member States report good cooperation, this decrease may be due to the processing of exceptionally large volumes of decisions, a backlog in previous years and possibly secondary movements. Cooperation between Albania and Frontex on return operations is very good. In 2019, Frontex coordinated 73 return operations, returning 2 414 Albanian citizens. About 1 565 Albanian citizens were readmitted and returned in January and February 2020. Albania should train more police officers to escort returnees to Albania, step up its efforts to provide reintegration support for returned nationals and improve the training of staff working at the migration desks and regional employment offices.
In August 2021, Albania started temporarily hosting evacuees/refugees from Afghanistan. Following a Council of Ministers decision adopted on 25 August 2021 under the asylum law as of end September close to 1150 were granted protection for one year pending security screening. They are hosted in open facilities in various locations in Albania, with the
understanding that they would further be resettled in the United States under a specific visa regime.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
A new law on Asylum was adopted in February 2021, bringing the legislation closer to the EU acquis. The law introduces an accelerated procedure for relevant cases and offers additional safeguards for vulnerable groups. Efforts should now focus on a swift and comprehensive implementation of the new law. Internal guidelines should be adopted to guide competent authorities and additional capacity building should be provided.
Albania has the necessary institutions in place to handle asylum claims. Appeals may be lodged with the National Commission for Refugees and Asylum, which was reactivated in 2020 and has since taken four decisions. Judicial appeals may be lodged at the administrative courts. Resources should be allocated for full-time qualified interpreters during and after pre- screening. Although the law on asylum provides refugees rights to access public services at the same level as Albanian citizens, lack of coordination with other legislation prevent their effective access.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
In 2020, 2 102 persons made a claim for asylum with the Border and Migration Police, which represents a very substantial drop compared to 6 677 in 20198, while the number of apprehended migrants increased. After the reopening of borders in June, only 50 asylum referrals were recorded until the end of 2020. Access to asylum procedures should be improved.
As most asylum seekers leave the country after a few days, most asylum claims are not pursued. In 2020, 17 applications were formally lodged. No applicant was granted refugee status but four were granted subsidiary protection.
On asylum procedure the capacities of the Border and Migration Police to identify persons with specific needs remain insufficient. The Directorate for Asylum and Migration also needs capacity and training assessing individual claims, particularly the information on country of origin and cases involving vulnerable people. A database for managing registrations and allowing for follow-up of individual cases became operational in 2019. Data management still needs to be strengthened, especially to connect the register of foreigners with the national registry in order to provide a personal ID number to refugees.
Shortcomings have been noted in the use of pre-screening form and return procedures at the border with Greece. The new pre-screening instruction should be swiftly approved by the Ministry of Interior and implemented and asylum procedures improved The European Asylum Support Office agreed on a Roadmap for cooperation with Albania in January 2021.
The increased monitoring by the Ombudsperson’s Office in border areas and their engagement with the Border and Migration Police on their findings reinforces Albania’s rights-based approach towards asylum seekers.
The status of about 2 700 Iranians (from the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran) relocated to Albania in 2015 and 2016 has yet to be decided. They currently hold temporary residence permits on humanitarian grounds.
EXCERPT (2019): European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, "Report to the Albanian Government on the visit to Albania carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 20 to 30 November 2018," Council of Europe, 17 September 2019, https://rm.coe.int/168097986b
Karreç Detention Centre for Foreigners 1. Preliminary remarks
31. For the first time, the delegation visited the country’s sole detention centre for foreigners in Karreç. The Centre is located in the vicinity of Durres and was opened in 2010. With an official capacity of 125 places, it comprised three detention units (Nos. 1 and 3 for single males and No. 2 for families and single females). Since its opening, the actual number of detainees had usually been relatively low (with an exceptionally high number of more than 80 detainees in the autumn of 2018). At the time of the visit, it was accommodating a total of twelve detainees (ten single men,19 one married couple,20 no minors), most of whom had been held in the Centre for several months.
32. According to the relevant legal provisions,21 foreign nationals may be detained by order of the immigration authority for up to six months. Under certain circumstances, the detention period may be extended to a maximum period of twelve months. Asylum-seekers may be detained if they have failed to apply for international protection within ten days upon entry into Albanian territory, if they have no ID or for reasons of national security.
33. The CPT wishes to recall its position that every effort should be made to avoid resorting to the deprivation of liberty of an irregular migrant who is a child. In this regard, it is noteworthy that unaccompanied minors may not be detained in the detention centre but shall be accommodated in a social welfare institution for juveniles. The delegation was informed that, in recent years, families with children had not been detained in the Centre. The CPT welcomes this state of affairs and trusts that the Albanian authorities will continue to avoid placing parents with children in the Centre and ensure that when, in an exceptional case, minors are held there with their parents, their stay is limited to the shortest possible period of time.
34. The CPT acknowledges that the handling of foreign nationals who are detained pending deportation is a particularly challenging task for both staff and the management. In establishments of this type, it is not uncommon for CPT delegations to observe tensions between immigration detainees and also between detainees and staff.
At Karreç Detention Centre, the delegation gained the impression that existing tensions were at least in part the result of a quasi-total lack of activities (see paragraph 39) and the apparent lack of information provided to foreign nationals about the procedures applied to them and the possible length of their detention (see paragraph 49), as well as of major language barriers and lack of interpretation (see paragraph 43).
One of them had served a prison sentence and was formally remanded in custody and placed under house arrest in the Centre, following the opening of a new criminal case against him.
The couple was accommodated in the unit for families.
Sections 120 to 127 of the Law on Aliens, Section 11 of the Law on Asylum and Decision of the Council of Ministers on the Rules on the setting-up and functioning of the closed detention centre.
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35. The delegation received a few isolated allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment of foreign nationals by custodial police officers (such as slaps or punches).
The CPT recommends that it be reiterated to custodial staff at Karreç Detention Centre that all forms of ill-treatment of foreign nationals are illegal and will be punished accordingly.
36. Further, the CPT considers that the manner in which violent detainees were on occasion subjected to mechanical restraint in the establishment’s security cell was unacceptable and could easily be considered to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.
In this regard, reference is made to the remarks and recommendation in paragraph 46.
37. The information gathered during the visits suggests that inter-detainee violence did not pose a major problem, and no complaints were received in this regard from foreign nationals who had been interviewed by the delegation.
3. Conditions of detention
38. As regards material conditions, it is positive that communal spaces and detention rooms were spacious (30 m2, including annexe with toilet and shower, with four beds) and well lit. The CPT acknowledges that furnishings and equipment had recently been damaged to some extent by detainees during a violent protest. Further, many of the sanitary facilities were found to be in a very poor state of repair as well as in appalling hygienic conditions. Moreover, many complaints were received about insufficient heating and the shortage of personal hygiene products. Several foreign nationals claimed that up to four persons had to share one bar of soap and one toothbrush.
The CPT recommends that the Albanian authorities take steps to ensure that the above- mentioned deficiencies at Karreç Detention Centre are remedied without delay. Steps should also be taken to ensure that all foreign nationals are provided with adequate supplies of personal hygiene products (including, in the case of female detainees, sanitary towels).
39. Whilst acknowledging that foreign nationals benefited from an open-door regime within their detention unit throughout the day22 and that the Centre had a small library (with books in English, French and Arabic),23 the CPT is very concerned that hardly any recreational activities were offered to foreign nationals. It is of all the more concern that allegations were received from detainees that access to the open air was limited to only a number of days per month. The delegation was informed that television sets in communal spaces had recently been destroyed by detainees.
Detention rooms were locked from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m.
It is noteworthy that the unit for families and single women was equipped with a table-tennis table and a playroom with toys for children.
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During the end-of-visit talks, the delegation called upon the Albanian authorities to take urgent steps to ensure that all immigration detainees are offered at least two hours of outdoor exercise every day (including at weekends), as stipulated in the applicable legislation, and preferably more.
By letter dated 16 April 2019, the Albanian authorities informed the CPT that foreign nationals were allowed to go outdoors every day to have access to the open air. The authorities further indicated that “in the Centre there is an urgent need for building sport facilities, for providing the detainees with access to televisions and internet, so that they can be informed about the latest news”. In fact, there was sufficient green space on the premises of the Centres which could be used for sports activities.
The CPT fully concurs with the authorities’ assessment of the situation. It recommends that steps be taken at Karreç Detention Centre as a matter of priority to ensure that every detention unit is equipped (again) with a television set and that all foreign nationals are provided with a range of recreational activities (including sports). To this end, the involvement of external service providers such as charity organisations and/or NGOs should be explored.
Further, the Committee wishes to receive confirmation that all foreign nationals are henceforth granted outdoor exercise for at least two hours per day (including at weekends).
4. Health care
40. The CPT welcomes the fact that a full-time (qualified) assistant doctor was present in the Centre on working days (and on call outside working hours) and that medical treatment was provided without delay. In case of need, foreign nationals were transferred to the regional general hospital in Durres.
41. That said, a number of major shortcomings were observed by the delegation. First and foremost, newly-arrived foreign nationals were not systematically subjected to a comprehensive medical examination upon admission. Medical screening appeared to be limited to questions about acute or chronic diseases and the use of any medication as well as to an inspection of the skin. Moreover, there was no screening aimed at identifying traumatic experiences. It is also a matter of concern that no individual medical files had been opened for foreign nationals; medical examinations were only recorded in a logbook.
The CPT wishes to stress that systematic and prompt screening for transmissible diseases is crucial to avoid the spread of diseases among detainees and staff (and their families), as well as for the detection of persons who have had traumatic experiences and are in need of psychological support. In addition, the systematic carrying out of a proper physical examination is also important for the prevention of police ill-treatment by recording injuries and reporting allegations of ill-treatment to the relevant prosecutor.
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The CPT recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps to ensure Karreç Detention Centre:
all newly-arrived foreign nationals benefit from a comprehensive medical examination (including screening for transmissible diseases) by a doctor or a fully-qualified nurse reporting to a doctor as soon as possible after their admission. In this connection, particular attention should also be paid to the possible existence of mental disorders and other vulnerabilities (such as traumatic experiences);
the record drawn up after a medical examination of a detainee, whether newly-arrived or not, contains: (i) a full account of objective medical findings based on a thorough examination (supported by a “body chart” for marking traumatic injuries and, preferably, photographs of injuries); (ii) an account of statements made by the person concerned which are relevant to the medical examination, including any allegations of ill-treatment made by him/her; (iii) the doctor's observations in the light of (i) and (ii), indicating the consistency between any allegations made and the objective medical findings. In addition, the results of every examination, including the above-mentioned statements and the doctor’s observations, should be made available to the detainee and his/her lawyer;
an individual medical file is opened without delay – and properly kept – for every newly- arrived foreign national;
whenever injuries are recorded which are consistent with allegations of ill-treatment by the foreign national (or which, even in the absence of the allegations, are indicative of ill-treatment), the information is systematically brought to theattention of the competent prosecutor, regardless of the wishes of the person concerned. The health-care staff should advise detainees of the existence of the reporting obligation and that the forwarding of the report to the relevant authorities is not a substitute for the lodging of a formal complaint;
the health-care professional working in the Centre is reminded of his obligation under Section 282 of the CCP to report, within 48 hours, any injuries indicative of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials to the competent prosecutor.
was employed by the Centre on a full-time basis. The delegation was informed that foreign nationals suffering from a mental disorder were transferred to the psychiatric service of Durres Regional Hospital.
43. Finally, due to language barriers, the assistant doctor was frequently unable to communicate with foreign nationals during medical examinations. It is a matter of concern that in such cases no interpretation was provided or a fellow-detainee speaking the same language was called upon to act as interpreter.
The CPT wishes to stress that, whenever a health-care professional is unable to make a proper diagnostic evaluation due to language problems, foreign nationals should be able to benefit without delay from the services of a qualified interpreter. Save for exceptional circumstances, interpretation by a fellow-detainee should be avoided.
As regards the provision of mental health care, the CPT welcomes the fact that a psychologist
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5. Other issues
44. As already mentioned in paragraph 34, the handling of foreign nationals who are detained pending deportation is a particularly challenging task for both staff and the management.
Given the generally low number of detainees, the presence of custodial staff (four to five officers around the clock) appeared to be adequate. Notwithstanding that, the delegation gained the impression that custodial officers were over-stretched. On the one hand, due to language barriers, they were usually unable to communicate with any of the foreign nationals, and, on the other hand, they had received hardly any specific training for working with immigration detainees (apart from a short induction provided by a foreign consultant contracted by the Ministry of the Interior).
The CPT recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that custodial officers at Karreç Detention Centre are provided with appropriate training (including in de-escalation techniques, interpersonal communication and cultural sensitivity). It would also be desirable for some officers to have relevant language skills.
45. Karreç Detention Centre had a total of four security (isolation) cells, measuring some 9 m2 each. The cells were equipped with a bed, toilet and a sink and had good access to natural light and artificial lighting.
That said, at the time of the visit, several cells were in a very poor state of repair and in an appalling state of hygiene (in one cell, some faeces were found on the floor). The delegation was informed that the cells had been vandalised by particularly violent detainees who had inter alia torn off the wall the sink and toilet. Moreover, it is a matter of concern that none of the cells was equipped with a call system. The CPT recommends that immediate steps be taken to remedy these shortcomings.
46. Due to the lack of a specific register, the delegation was not in the position to obtain a clear picture of the frequency of the use of the security (isolation) cells. It is a matter of particular concern that foreign nationals were on occasion handcuffed to the bed inside a security cell. According to staff, there had been around five instances in 2018 and particularly violent/agitated detainees had been additionally immobilised with a rope. In at least one case, a foreign national had allegedly been hand- and ankle-cuffed to the bed in a stress position (spread-eagled) for 24 hours. In the CPT’s view, this practice could easily be considered to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment and should be discontinued immediately.
The CPT acknowledges that, in the event of a foreign national acting in a violent manner, the use of handcuffs may be justified for a short time. However, the person concerned should not be shackled to fixed objects (such as a bed) but instead be kept under close supervision in a secure setting and, if necessary, medical assistance should be sought. Further, every placement of a foreign national in a security cell, as well as any resort to handcuffs, should be recorded in a specific register (indicating inter alia the time of the beginning and end of the measure).
The Committee recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that the above-mentioned precepts are effectively implemented in practice at Karreç Detention Centre.
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47. According to the relevant legislation,24 foreign nationals who have violated the house rules may be subjected to one of the following disciplinary measures: warning, imposition (for up to ten days) of tasks related to the maintenance and cleanliness of the centre, exclusion (for up to ten days) from recreational activities (if the disciplinary offence is related to such activities) or solitary confinement (for up to 24 hours). Solitary confinement may only be imposed by the Director (or his/her Deputy).
In this regard, the CPT notes with concern that the relevant legislation does not provide for a formal procedure and that any sanctions imposed were not recorded in a specific register.
The Committee recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps, including at the legislative level, to ensure that formal disciplinary procedures for detention centres for foreigners are established and implemented in practice. In this connection, the foreign nationals should be entitled to be informed in writing of the charges against them, to be heard in person by the decision-making authority, to call witnesses on their own behalf, to receive a copy of the decision and to appeal to an independent authority against any sanctions imposed. Further, all disciplinary sanctions should be recorded in a specific register.
48. As regards contact with the outside world, foreign nationals could send and receive letters without any restrictions, and they were in principle allowed to receive visits every day.
That said, it is regrettable that the Centre was not equipped with a telephone booth, and foreign nationals were not allowed to keep their mobile phones. Instead, detainees were occasionally given the opportunity to either make a phone call with a telephone provided by staff or to use their mobile phone for a few minutes.
Whilst acknowledging the recent initiative of the management to request the Ministry of the Interior to install a telephone for detainees in the Centre, the CPT recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that foreign nationals have access to a (pay) telephone every day.
Further, given that foreign nationals usually received no visits, 25 the Committee invites the Albanian authorities to consider extending the possibilities for foreign nationals to have contact with the outside world by allowing them to keep their mobile phones, as is increasingly the practice in various other European countries and/or by developing low-cost internet-based communication channels (such as Voice-over-Internet-Protocol).
49. According to Section 121, paragraph 4, of the Law on Aliens, foreign nationals held in detention pending deportation shall be informed in writing in a language they understand or at least in English of the detention order, which shall indicate the reasons for the detention and the detention period, as well as the rights to be provided legal assistance by a lawyer of their choice or an ex officio lawyer and to communicate with their relatives.
See Part 6, Chapter IV, of the Decision of the Council of Ministers on the Rules on the setting-up and functioning of the Closed Detention Centre.
According to staff, not a single visit had taken place in recent years.
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That said, the information gathered during the visit indicates that there was a striking difference between theory and practice. From the consultation of the individual administrative files of all foreign nationals present at the time of the visit, it transpired that, in the majority of cases, the detention order issued by the immigration authority did not contain any reasoning and that, in some cases, the detention order did not specify the detention period. Further, not a single detention order contained a reference to the right of access to a lawyer (including one appointed ex officio). Moreover, all detention orders simply referred to the existence of a legal remedy by stating: “This order may be appealed pursuant to Article 122 of Law No. 108/2013 on Foreigners”, without providing any specific information about the modalities to lodge an appeal.
All foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation complained vigorously about an almost total lack of information about the legal procedures applied to them. In addition, they appeared to be unaware of the rights of immigration detainees.
The CPT acknowledges that all detention orders seen by the delegation contained a statement “I was informed” which had been signed by the foreign national concerned. However, most detainees interviewed by the delegation claimed that they were not aware of the contents of the documents they had had to sign upon admission.
In the light of the above, the Committee recommends that the Albanian authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that:
as to the People’s Advocate. However, none of the foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation appeared to be aware of the existence of any such possibility. The CPT recommends that the complaints procedures be specified in the information sheet/brochure referred to in paragraph 49.
all foreign nationals detained at Karreç Detention Centre are expressly informed, without delay and in a language they understand, of their rights and the procedure applicable to them, including any legal remedies. To this end, all newly-admitted detainees should be systematically provided with an information sheet/brochure setting out this information; theinformation sheet/brochure should be available in the languages most commonly spoken by those concerned and, if necessary, the services of an interpreter should be made available. The persons concerned should confirm in writing that they have been informed of their rights, in a language they can understand;
detention orders are issued in conformity with the legal requirements set out above; all detainees are provided with a copy of the detention order.
Foreign nationals could in principle lodge complaints to the competent district court26 as well