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Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers examines Albania's report

Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers 

2 April 2019

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Albania on its implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Introducing the report, Ravesa Lleshi, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, informed that several changes to the national legal framework, including amendments to the Law on Foreigners, aimed to build a stronger and more coherent migratory policy.  The Law on Asylum adopted in 2014 regulated the procedures for asylum.  Both the Law on Foreigners and the Law on Asylum were based on the principle of non-refoulement.  The rights of child asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons were additionally safeguarded by the Law on the Rights and Protection of the Child, whereas the Law on Social Services envisaged specific protective measures for children and persons in need of protection.  All immigrants, irrespective of their status, enjoyed the same access as nationals to Government-funded health services, including medical emergency.  Speaking of illegal immigration from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Ms. Lleshi said that Albania had developed a sustainable policy to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in persons.  Most voluntary withdrawal procedures had been applied and partially dealt with in the closed centre for foreigners at Kareç.  On the Albanians living abroad, Ms. Lleshi informed that the programme “Engaging the Albanian Diaspora in the Social and Economic Development of the Country” aimed to increase the diaspora engagement in the development of the country by supporting members of the Albanian diaspora to promote investment in the country. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts wondered about guarantees for the right to education for migrant children, noting that refugee children from conflict regions could not easily provide their record of vaccinations and school certificates, which were required in order to enrol.  They also inquired about the treatment of unaccompanied migrants and whether the detention was applied to them as the measure of last resort.  The Experts further raised the issues of definition of “illegal migrants” and the use of terms such as “foreigner/aliens/immigrants,” labour inspections and regulation of the work of recruitment agencies, trade unions representing migrant workers, Albanian migrant workers and their social and economic protection, effects of emigration on women, the right to vote for Albanians living abroad, potential overlap of various bodies and agencies dealing with the Albanian diaspora, status of the Convention in domestic legislation, the possibility of submission of individual petitions and inter-State petitions to the Committee, efforts to fight trafficking in persons, combatting corruption among border officials, birth registration of migrant children born in Albania, and family reunification.    

In her concluding remarks, Jasminka Džumhur, Committee Rapporteur for Albania, appreciated the delegation’s efforts, keeping in mind that Albania was a small country and that some questions required more detailed answers.  She asked the delegation to provide information on the readmission agreements with third countries. 

On her part, Ms. Lleshi thanked the Committee Experts for their genuine engagement with the delegation.  She added that such meetings were an opportunity for the State party to take stock of the measures it had taken, and to consider possible improvements. 
Can Ünver, Committee Vice-Chair, thanked the delegation for their responses, and he encouraged the Government of Albania to take all the necessary measures to address the Committee’s observations. 

The delegation of Albania consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.  

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today 2 April to review the second periodic report of Guatemala (CMW/C/GTM/2).

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Albania (CMW/C/ALB/2) and its replies to the list of issues (CMW/C/ALB/Q/2/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, at the outset reaffirmed the importance Albania attached to the Committee’s mandate and said that, in line with its obligation under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Albania has taken a series of measures to improve the legal, policy and institutional frameworks with regard to migrant workers.  Several legal amendments, including to the Law on Foreigners, aimed to build a stronger and more coherent migratory policy.  The Law on Foreigners clearly provided that foreigners enjoyed the rights and obligations envisaged by the Constitution.  As amended, the Law on Foreigners guaranteed the right of foreigners who legally resided in Albania to create or maintain family life.  The Law on Asylum adopted in 2014 regulated the procedures for asylum, identified the responsible authorities and provided for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and their subsidiary and temporary protection.  Both the Law on Foreigners and the Law on Asylum were based on the principle of non-refoulement, reaffirmed Ms. Lleshi.  The rights of child asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons were additionally safeguarded by the Law on the Rights and Protection of the Child, while the Law on Social Services envisaged specific measures for children and persons in need of protection. 

All immigrants, irrespective of their status, enjoyed the same access as nationals to Government-funded health services, including medical emergency.  Asylum-seeking children enjoyed the right to education and could attend the educational institution located in the vicinity of the centre; a legal status and birth certificate were not required for enrolment in school.  However, the child had to have validation of vaccinations from the health centre and school certificates for the class that he or she concluded.  An Albanian language course was offered to assist with their integration.  A foreign member of an Albanian family was granted a residence permit that was reviewed every two years.  That also applied to a minor for whom a foreigner was the legal guardian.  The Permanent Representative remarked that 9,617 individuals had been issued a residence permit on the grounds of family reunification between 2012 and 2017.  Immigrants could apply for permanent residence if they had continuously resided in Albania for at least five years and met certain additional conditions.  Permanent residents and those holding family reunification permits had the same access to employment and self-employment as nationals, and equal employment rights were granted to refugees through a special work permit.  Migrant workers and members of their families enjoyed equal rights with Albanian citizens when it came to the right to social benefits.  Albania’s migration legislation gave priority to the voluntary return of certain categories of persons, such as unaccompanied minors, the sick, disabled persons, and parents with young children. 

Turning to the country’s strategic framework on migration, Ms. Lleshi noted that the consolidation of migration policies and of the management and coordination structures was one of the strategic objectives of the Albanian Government.  Two key policy documents provided measures on migration, including on migrants’ rights: The National Strategy for Development and Integration 2015-2020, and the National Strategy for Integrated Border Management 2014-2020.  Bilateral social security agreements were an important instrument for protecting the rights of migrant workers and were concluded with Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Romania, North Macedonia, and Turkey. 

Albania had developed a sustainable policy to combat trafficking in persons and illegal immigration, including from the Middle Eastern and North African countries.  Illegal immigration had increased significantly during 2018; 3,160 irregular migrants had been caught representing more than 200 per cent increase from 2017.  The largest number come from Syria, followed by those from Pakistan and the Kashmir region, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, and Morocco.  The programme “Engaging the Albanian Diaspora in the Social and Economic Development of the Country” aimed to increase the engagement of Albanians living abroad in the development of the country through the transfer of knowledge and skills and investments.  Regarding education for Albanian children abroad, the Government supported the implementation of special programmes to learn the Albanian language, and the recognition of Albanian cultural heritage. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Rapporteur for Albania, commended Albania for having set up an inter-ministerial working group for reporting to treaty bodies, and for having ratified the conventions of the International Labour Organization.  She asked when Albania would ratify Convention No. 189 on domestic workers and requested the definition of “illegal migrants.”  Referring to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations on women and children, the Rapporteur asked about the status of women in Albanian society and the effects of migration on them.
Turning to the right to education, the Country Rapporteur asked how refugee children could provide their record of vaccinations and school certificates if they came from conflict regions.  Almost 20 per cent of the population lived abroad, Ms. Džumhur remarked and asked about their position and the inclusion of Albanian children the educational systems abroad.  With regard to refugees and asylum-seekers, the Rapporteur asked the delegation to explain the treatment of unaccompanied minors, the status of the national torture prevention mechanism, and whether it had recently visited refugee and asylum centres.

The Country Rapporteur further inquired about trafficking in persons and assistance provided to victims.  What measures had been taken by the State party to fight corruption, which had been cited as one of the push factors for migration?  What actions had been taken to fight corruption among border officials?

Other Experts asked about the status of the Convention in domestic legislation and whether it had ever been invoked in courts by migrant workers.  Albania’s legal framework to deal with migration revealed certain discrepancies in terms of terminology as three terms were being used: foreigners, aliens and immigrants.  The Experts also inquired about a single institution to coordinate migration issues, the relationship between the national human rights institution and the Parliament, and efforts to regulate the work and activities of recruitment agencies. 
  
The delegation was asked to enumerate the rights under the Law on Foreigners, inform of measures in place to improve the living conditions of foreigners in Albania, and provide statistical data on access to education and health for migrants and their families.  The Experts stressed the obligation of States parties to the Convention to provide education to all children, including children of migrant workers.

Turning to work and employment, the Experts asked about labour inspections and especially those looking into private employment agencies?  What were the practical results of the national employment strategies, and were there any trade associations or trade unions representing migrant workers? 

A significant number of Albanians lived abroad, the Experts remarked, asking how the country ensured respect for their rights and how the issue of labour exploitation was being dealt with.  What was the impact of the remittances of Albanian migrant workers domestically and what economic and social benefits were available to returnees?    

As a transit country, did Albania have any special reception centres for unaccompanied minors?  What happened to children who were not registered?  Were there any specific measures to deal with migrant single mothers? 

Replies by the Delegation

RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, agreed that it was important to have a national reporting mechanism, but noted that Albania had limited resources.  The Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs normally took the lead in reporting to human rights bodies.  The Ambassador asked the Committee to provide recommendations in that regard. 

Explaining the country’s legal framework, the delegation said that the first in the hierarchy of norms was the national Constitution and was followed by ratified international treaties, which took precedence over those domestic laws that were incompatible with the treaties.  The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was not directly applicable in the domestic legal order and all its provisions need to be transposed into national law. 

The European Convention on Human Rights obliged the State to observe its rules and standards, including access to education.  The Government was currently reviewing the compatibility with the domestic legal framework of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  With the adoption of the new Labour Law, the authorities hoped that they would be ready to ratify the latter.  The decision to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189 on domestic workers had been made in 1995 but had never been implemented due to the lack of human resources.  Given the acute lack of data on domestic work, the implementation of the obligation under this Convention would be problematic.

On terminology, the delegation said that the Law on Foreigners clearly defined the terms “asylum seeker”, “refugee,” and “foreigner” and that discrepancy in the use of terms, such as “foreigners,” “aliens,” and “immigrants” was, by and large, the result of incorrect translation.  Several amendments to the Law on Foreigners had been made to clarify the term “foreigner,” which, unlike the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee” did not imply the need for international protection.

The right to education was guaranteed to Albanian nationals and foreigners alike and persons denied this right could directly invoke the European Convention on Human Rights in order to defend their rights.  It was true that there was a legal gap in the provision of the right to education to irregular migrant children, who had to be registered in order to attend school.  Albania would amend the Law on the Rights and Protection of the Child to make it more responsive to the new migratory context, said the delegation. 

The Office of the Ombudsperson had been established in 2000 to address potential conflicts between individual citizens and the public administration and to defend human rights.  In 2014, a section for the prevention of torture had been added to the Office of the Ombudsperson to monitor the rights of persons deprived of their liberty.  The national human rights institution was completely independent and the Government hoped there would be consideration cooperation with Parliament.

An operational plan had been adopted to establish new reception centres and to deal with the increased migration flows in 2018, particularly on the border with Greece in south-eastern Albania.  Asylum-seeking children were placed in reception centres and were provided services in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Cases of unaccompanied children were registered, and children arrived alone either due to trafficking or because their country of origin was at war.  After an initial evaluation, the social welfare protection units were responsible for monitoring the child’s integration for two years.  With the 2016 administrative changes, local and regional child protection units and specialized social welfare services assessed the situation of unaccompanied migrant children, who were provided with interpreters, psychological services, and legal representation.  The basic principle underpinning the whole process was the principle of the best interest of the child and of non-discrimination.  There were currently nine residential centres for unaccompanied minors.  Unaccompanied minors could not be returned and there had been no such cases so far. 

Child victims of trafficking received support from various ministries, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations.  The Law on Protection and Social Services had set up a new fund for new social services at the local and regional level for vulnerable groups.  The National Agency for the Protection of the Child was the overseeing authority that surveyed the whole process, from the moment of identification until repatriation. 

Since the 1990s, Albania had been characterized by significant emigration flows, with a large number of undocumented migrants.  Several meetings with the receiving countries’ immigration offices had been held to discuss the issue of unaccompanied Albanian minors.  Out of 3.2 million inhabitants, almost one million had migrated, mainly to Greece and Italy.  They were also present in the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.  Migration used to be predominantly male, but female migration had increased over the years and it now stood equal to those of men.  Many Albanians living abroad had returned in the past several years.  In 2014 and 2015, some 2,730 Albanian children had been integrated into the education system, whereas the figures for 2016 and 2017 were 2,127, and 1,036 for 2017 and 2018.
  
Remittances were a very important factor of economic development of Albania, which was why the Government had worked to engage with the diaspora through an appointment of a State Minister for Relations with Diaspora, and the creation of the National Agency of the Diaspora.  The Coordination Council of the Diaspora was composed of 15 diaspora representatives.  The Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs had started an online platform for consular services for Albanian citizens living abroad to facilitate their access to various services in all Albanian embassies abroad.  Several cultural centres had been created abroad and progress had been made in the elaboration of curricula for children in the diaspora in collaboration with the authorities in Kosovo, as well as in the training of teachers for that purpose.  In 2018, some 7,500 textbooks in Albanian had been delivered and there were television programmes for the Albanian diaspora. 

Speaking of the type of work permits for foreigners in Albania, the delegation clarified that employment contracts should be valid at least for one year.  Foreign investors could obtain a two-year-long work permit, renewable for a three-year term.  At the end of 2018, the International Labour Organization had carried out a midterm evaluation of Albania’s employment strategy, including the Law on Social Businesses, which also benefitted migrants.  There was no migrants’ trade union in Albania.   

In 2017, Albania had approved a Council of Ministers’ decision on child labour.  The country now had a list of employment types where child labour was authorized, as well as the list of chemical substances to which children should not be exposed to.  Employment of a child had to be authorized by the Labour Inspectorate and employers were obliged to appropriate conditions.  Children between 16 and 18 years of aged could work but not at night and not in positions where there was a considerable threat to their safety.  Those children were mainly employed in the manufacturing industry and tourism.

Questions by the Committee Experts

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Rapporteur for Albania, requested the delegation to explain whether migrant children could be detained under the Law on Foreigners and to describe alternative measures to the detention of migrant children.  The Rapporteur asked what happened with children in the context of family reunification and deceased parents?  Did the State party have a new national anti-trafficking strategy, given that the previous one had expired?

In terms of the right to vote, how was it exercised by the Albanians living abroad?  How could they participate in public and political life? 

Other Experts asked about the potential overlap of various bodies and agencies dealing with the Albanian diaspora.  What were the criteria for the election of members of the Coordination Council of the Diaspora?  Were there incentives to bring back Albanian migrant workers? 

Replies by the Delegation

RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the new national anti-trafficking strategy 2018-2020 focused on prevention and protection and had shifted from prosecuting to protecting victims.  There was recently a rise in the number of identified trafficking cases and with the support of civil society, the Government had re-activated mobile identification units in three regions, which had identified more than 20 potential victims in 2017.  The Government ran one specialized shelter, whereas civil society ran three of them.  In terms of support to victims of trafficking, the authorities provided free vocational training, textbooks, health cards, and limited reintegration support and foreign victims had the same access to services as nationals.  In 2017, the Government had granted residency to six foreign victims and as of now, no victim had received reparations.  The Office of the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator had signed cooperation agreements with similar offices in neighbouring countries to improve prevention and protection and to raise awareness.

The first crisis management centre for victims of sexual violence, entirely funded by the State, had been opened in February 2019 in the capital city of Tirana.  It was located in the university hospital and provided socio-medical services to victims.  The authorities wanted to extend such services to cover all 12 regions in the country. 

As for the potential overlap in the work of agencies dealing with the Albanian diaspora, the delegation clarified that cultural centres abroad had been created in order to preserve the Albanian identity, language and culture of the diaspora.  They were under the responsibility of Albanian diplomatic missions in the countries where they were present.  The work of the National Agency of the Diaspora did not overlap with that of the Coordination Council of the Diaspora: the Agency coordinated the work of the cultural centres abroad and served as the executive branch for the Coordination Council of the Diaspora, which proposed policies.  

The criteria for the election of members of the Coordination Council of the Diaspora stipulated that candidates should have high integrity and reputation in the community where they lived and the ability to promote the relations between their host country and the country of origin.  Candidates should be distinguished in their respective field of work.  There should be at least 30 candidates for the 15 designated positions; if there were fewer candidates, then the call was repeated.  The Council of Ministers approved the appointment of candidates.

When immigrant children from war-torn countries did not have relevant school certificates, they or their legal guardians would self-declare the level of their studies, and the relevant national commission would assess their level of education and provide them with access to education. 

The Albanians living abroad could exercise their right to vote by coming to the country and the municipality in which they were registered.  The authorities were working to find the best ways to allow them to vote without travelling to Albania.  The detention of immigrant children was indeed a measure of last resort; other measures included expulsion and removal.  With regard to family reunification, the delegation said that the dissolution of marriage meant that the grounds for family reunification disappeared.  Regrettably, Albania did not have any incentives for returning Albanian migrant workers.  The country currently had in place uniform treatment of all investors, including returning Albanians.

Concluding Remarks  

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Rapporteur for Albania, in her concluding remarks, appreciated the delegation’s efforts, keeping in mind that Albania was a small country and that some questions required more detailed answers.  She added that the Committee would issue more concrete concluding observations in order to help the State party implement the Convention.  In addition, the Rapporteur asked the delegation to provide information on the readmission agreements with third countries. 

RAVESA LLESHI, Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in her conclusion thanked the Committee Experts for their genuine engagement with the delegation.  She added that such meetings were an opportunity for the State party to take stock of the measures it had taken, and to consider possible improvements.  She assured the Committee that Albania would submit the additional answers in writing. 

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their responses and commended Albania’s human rights-based approach to migration which he said was in line with the spirit of the Convention.  The Vice-Chair encouraged Albania to take all the necessary measures to address the Committee’s observations. 

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