TIRANA (13 December 2011) – The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, concluded today his first nine-day fact-finding mission to Albania. The Special Rapporteur delivered the following statement on his mission, which included meetings in Tirana, Dürres, Shkoder and visits to border crossing points with Greece and Montenegro, reception facilities and other centres:
“At the outset, I wish to convey my deepest appreciation for the full cooperation extended to me by the Government of Albania prior to and during my visit. All interlocutors have welcomed me with sincere openness and eagerness to share their insights and experiences on the multifaceted and complex phenomenon of migration in Albania. My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to all: State officials at both national and local levels, representatives of civil society, international and regional organizations, and migrants themselves.
I am truly impressed by the comprehensive set of laws, policies and strategies put in place over the past few years to ensure a holistic and rights-based approach to migration. They demonstrate the vision and commitment of the Government to ensure the protection of the fundamental human rights of migrants – Albanians living abroad, Albanians returning or arriving foreigners – while recognizing the indispensable contribution of migrants to national development. The ratification in 2007 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of their Families and the engagement with the UN Committee on Migrant Workers are testimony to this commitment.
Transforming laws and strategies into tangible improvement in the full and equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms is a challenge for any country. In my conversations, I was reminded that, little more than twenty years ago, this country had neither a Ministry of Justice, nor a Ministry of Labour. Bearing in mind the young democracy of Albania, the consolidation of a human rights-based public administration necessarily requires individual commitment, political leadership, as well as continuous support from the international community. In relation to the human rights of migrants, I was most pleased to hear the perceived importance of my visit and assessment in this regard. I hope to fulfil your expectations.
The first issue that was often mentioned by my interlocutors was the scarcity of reliable data regarding Albanians abroad, Albanian returnees and foreigners in Albania. I invite the authorities to elaborate mechanisms of data collection on migration issues that can serve as dependable foundations for rights-based policy-making.
An estimated third of Albania’s population live outside of its borders. The biggest diasporas live in Greece and in Italy, with or without regular status. Consequently, the situation of Albanians in these and other European countries was brought to my attention by numerous interlocutors. In particular, the capacity, resources and expertise of Albanian consular offices to respond adequately to the needs and rights of Albanian migrants living and working abroad was highlighted. I very much welcome information in this regard that it is a Government priority to further improve consular services.
In this regard, the rights of children, persons deprived of their liberty and the protection of social rights were presented to me as particular priority issues. With respect to children, I was informed of challenges in ensuring birth registration of children born of Albanian citizens, especially when parents are in an irregular situation. Every child has the right to be registered immediately after birth, acquire a name and a nationality. It is unacceptable that children be born into statelessness in today’s Europe. While noting as positive cooperation with civil society for the registration of Albanian children born abroad, I encourage both Albania and host countries to consider urgent measures to address this situation.
Albanian children, I was told, also face difficulties in receiving education in their mother tongue abroad. The Government should continue and strengthen positive initiatives already taken in this regard, such as providing Albanian children abroad with textbooks in the Albanian language.
Regarding the situation of Albanians abroad who face criminal proceedings or are deprived of their liberty, including children, interlocutors noted that their legal defence is often poor, leading to unfair convictions and/or excessive sentences. There is need to support them by facilitating access to appropriate legal assistance, including the services of fellow Albanian citizens who are practicing lawyers in the host country.
I therefore encourage the Government of Albania to strengthen the number, staffing and expertise of Albanian consular offices to respond to the multiple needs of Albanians abroad. Specialized training courses, cooperation with the Albanian diaspora, the designation of consular officers with expertise on migrants’ rights, as well as a systematic follow-up of individual files, should be considered.
States share the responsibility to bring about the international protection of the rights of migrants and should cooperate to this end. I thus commend the signing in July 2011 of a bilateral agreement with Italy on seasonal workers and urge the authorities of both countries to implement it. In this breath, I welcome information that the Government is in the process of concluding bilateral agreements for the recognition of the social contributions of Albanian migrants abroad, noting as positive that a bilateral agreement with Turkey already exists.
Currently, Albanians living abroad can only exercise their right to vote on the territory of Albania. I welcome information that the Electoral Code is currently under review and encourage Albania to ensure that the law as amended guarantees the right of Albanian migrants to participate in public affairs and to vote by law and in practice, as also recommended by the Committee on Migrant Workers in 2010. The exercise of political rights is essential to further enhancing the protection of all human rights of Albanian migrants abroad.
I was heartened to learn about economic growth in Albania and the reduction in poverty (from 25,4% in 2002 to 18,5% in 2008), which, alongside the economic crisis in neighbouring countries, prompted many Albanians abroad to return. In this regard, I received disturbing reports from several interlocutors of unaccompanied Albanian children returned to the borders by the authorities of neighbouring countries, outside the framework of the Readmission Agreement signed with the European Union. I was told that these children, sometimes undocumented, are returned to the border without a prior assessment of their best interests – a core principle of the rights of the child – and without proper follow-up in terms of social care. Some of them would even be separated from their family. The concerned authorities should conduct an in-depth assessment of the situation, with a view to developing a procedure that ensures full respect for the human rights of Albanian children.
I was impressed by the efforts of the Albanian authorities, led by the National Coordinator on Combating Trafficking in Persons, in their fight against trafficking, notably the creation of the anti-trafficking police and the commendable partnership between the Government and civil society in providing shelters for victims of trafficking. The need to ensure sustainability of donor-dependent shelters, establish referral mechanisms and individual follow-up at local level by police and social workers, and to amend the Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure were recognized as remaining challenges. I encourage the Government to heed these calls.
Equally important, proactive preventive measures and information campaigns which will facilitate the identification of potential victims of trafficking are critical.
This is particularly urgent in view of reports of children going to neighbouring countries for begging and other forms of economic exploitation and young women employed as “singers”. Ensuring that all children go to school at least for the full length of the mandatory schooling period is one essential tool of prevention and fundamental right to be fully realized.
Being an explicit migration priority, the Government of Albania should intensify its efforts to assist and reach out to Albanians returnees, regardless of whether their return is voluntary or forced. I heard accounts from returnees themselves about a perceived absence of State services available to facilitate their reintegration and benefit from the human, social and financial capital they have acquired abroad. While I commend the establishment of 36 migration counters providing free advice on employment opportunities to migrants (Sportele Migracioni) at Regional Employment Offices throughout the country and the inclusion of unemployed returnees in the economic aid scheme, a more sophisticated system tailored to the needs of the individual returnee is required.
Returnees often need counselling, vocational training, relocation, and advice on investment and small businesses. The very small number of returnees assisted by the Sportele Migracioni (little more than 1,000 in 2011) compared to the actual number of returning Albanian migrants, indicates a need to intensify information campaigns, rebuild trust in public authorities and forge closer cooperation with the business community and civil society.
As the first point of encounter for many Albanians returned under readmission agreements, I witnessed firsthand the efforts of border police in providing information about these migration counters and other services and in cooperating with social workers and psychologists, especially in the case of return of children or other vulnerable groups. I spoke to a young man forcibly returned – not for the first time – from Greece at one border point. He had little education (two years of primary school only), low level of literacy and little hope in the future. He needs protection. To guarantee a dignified start of the reintegration process outside of a law enforcement environment, there is scope to significantly improve the infrastructure and ensure a permanent presence of social workers at border crossing points where return rates are high.
Due to its geographical proximity to the European Union, many persons confirmed to me that Albania is a country of transit and, increasingly, although still on a small scale, a country for irregular migration. In light of reports of possible economic exploitation of migrants living and working in Albania, I encourage the authorities to put in place a rigorous monitoring process, including a more proactive role for the Labour Inspectorate. Moreover, my observations suggest that conditions of circular migration of the Roma population with neighbouring States should be given particular attention as their social status renders them vulnerable to exploitation.
There is urgent need to sensitize all sectors of society on the human rights of migrants and about the responsibility of the State to respect, protect, fulfil and promote their rights. It is essential that all migrants be provided with appropriate legal aid when the issue of their human rights is raised in courts or administrative tribunals, in particular in cases where they are threatened with detention or with deportation to their country of origin or to any other country, or wish to seek asylum.
In this regard, I was impressed with the training on migration law by the School of Magistrates. I wish to applaud the work of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner and of the People’s Advocate, which is bound to have a positive effect on the human rights of migrants in Albania. I also welcome information of the establishment of the Legal Aid Commission earlier this year and am looking forward to the effect of the implementation of its Legal Aid policy on the protection of the human rights of migrants. In these efforts aimed at strengthening the legal and institutional foundations for migrants’ rights, I also strongly encourage the Government to proceed with the review of the Law on Foreigners to ensure that domestic legislation is in full conformity with international human rights obligations.
Implementation of rights demands an enabling environment based on the rule of law, checks and balances, and accountability. In the specific field of migrants’ rights, I understand from my interactions that rigorous strategies to ensure transparency and equality of opportunity and outcome for all without undue influence are essential, especially regarding consular services, the judiciary and the public administration.
The investment of the European Union (EU) in supporting the Albanian authorities’ efforts to adopt EU-compatible migration policies aimed at enhanced border management and control and capacity-building of law enforcement agencies and civil servants is remarkable. I strongly encourage the EU to considerably strengthen the human rights component of its technical assistance to Albania on her path towards European integration. To ensure sustainability of all efforts, I invite the EU to consider a specific programme for supporting the national human rights protection system, and the protection of the human rights of migrants in particular.
Finally, after the celebrations of Human Rights Day (10 December) and in the lead-up to International Migrants Day (18 December), I encourage the Albanian authorities to develop and implement, in partnership with all sectors of society, a national human rights strategy that places the rights and well-being of everyone, including migrants, at the heart of all laws, policies and programmes.
My mission report that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2012 will discuss my findings and recommendations in a more comprehensive way. I look forward to continuing then the constructive dialogue initiated during my visit.”
François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law and is scientific director of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.
Learn more about the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and activities, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/migration/rapporteur/index.htm
For more information, please contact:
In Tirana: Katarina Månsson (+41 794444078 / firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ms. Nora Kushti, Office of the UNRC in Albania (+355 (4) 2276611, +355 692090253 / email@example.com)
In Geneva: Federica Donati (+41 22 917 9496 / firstname.lastname@example.org) or write to email@example.com
The national strategies on migration (2005-2010), on reintegration of returned Albanian citizens (2010-2015) and on integrated border management (2007-2014), the Law on Foreigners (2008) and the Law on State Border Control and Surveillance (2008).