Downing Street has shown “important signs of regret and embarrassment” over the rhetoric used by ministers to describe Albanians, according to the country’s prime minister.
Edi Rama has previously accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of fuelling xenophobic attacks after she spoke in parliament about an “invasion” of asylum seekers and “Albanian criminals” when describing the small boats crisis.
But speaking to Sky News at the end of his visit to the UK – which included a meeting with PM Rishi Sunak – Mr Rama said progress had been made on the language, which he hoped would not be repeated.
“British/Albanian relations touched the lowest point in history since we have come out of communism because of that rhetoric that has put the Albanian community in Britain under a very, very heavy pressure,” he said.
“I must say that finally, on the side of Downing Street, we have been heard and there is not only words, but also deeds in putting together in place a joint taskforce to crack down the criminal networks, which is of course something Albania has always wanted.
“While we are having very important signs of regret and of embarrassment that is, let’s say, enough at this point. I hope very much that this will not be repeated anymore and that the Albanian community here will be really honoured for it.”
More than a third of people who crossed the Channel to the UK in the first nine months of last year were from Albania, according to government figures.
Under Mr Sunak’s five-point plan to stop illegal immigration that was launched in December, an agreement was made with Mr Rama to embed Border Force officials in Tirana, Albania’s capital, as part of a package of measures to reduce Channel crossings among people from the country.
The Albanian PM said it was a “trend” in countries that have come out of communism to see the UK as a place to go for a better life, but without a visa route, people would come via boats and seek asylum instead.
“I’m not here to question the sovereignty and the mandate of the British government to have a policy on the borders… but this is all what it is about – economic reasons for coming, getting a job and building a future in a place that has always been the shining city on a hill,” he said.
“They claim asylum because there is no other way. They are not part of the free labour market. So it’s all about dreaming and hoping to get what they imagine best for their life now and without waiting for many more years that this might happen in Albania.”
Mr Rama called on the UK government to “never forget that the Albanians here are doing great and they are helping and contributing for Britain to be a better place”.
He added: “Albanians here are working for construction companies, Albanians who are nursing elderly people, Albanians doing your cooking – so improving the British kitchens, I must say – and they are even singing too, let alone the academics and the students. And it has been so unfair to them to put them under such a pressure.
“But at the same time, they are a very strong base to build something very important.”
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The Albanian PM urged ministers to “separate the fight against crime” from those people seeking a job, adding: “It’s about having a visa system that gives access to people to apply in a regular manner and to be processed without taking the Channel, coming here to work and coming here to offer their skills.
“This is a combination of factors that is slowly getting in place and I’m sure that this issue will be solved.
“But I’m not sure that closing the borders and not letting people come in is the best for the British economy. But this is not for me to decide, is for the British people.”