Albanian criminals offered £1,500 to agree to be sent home as they pledge to return to the UK within days
17 May 2023, 8:58 | Updated: 17 May 2023, 9:01
Albanian prisoners are being paid as much as £1,500 to go back to their home country after being convicted in the UK.
Some have been released ahead of serving their minimum sentence and paid a sum if they agree to return to the Balkan state - though ex-inmates said they planned to come back to Britain within days.
More than 1,000 have been returned to Albania since the Government signed an agreement with Tirana in December last year.
About half of those were voluntary, with the rest either failed asylum seekers or foreign offenders.
Some of those deportees have told the BBC they had been sent back from British prisons and were offered money to agree to be sent back.
One prisoner, using the moniker "Mark", said he had been forcibly sent back to Albania after being given a six-year jail term for drug offences.
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The 30-year-old served just two years before being deported and said he had been offered £1,500 under the "Facilitated Return Scheme".
These sums are offered if prisoners agreed to waive their right to appeal against deportation and cooperate with authorities.
"It was my choice to come back. Nobody forced me. They offered it to me. They said, 'You decide if you want to go or want to stay'," Mark said.
He was deported under the Early Release Scheme, which is used for prisoners of any nationality and does not require an inmate's consent.
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The Home Office said it did not keep publish how many Albanians had been given money to cooperate on their deportation.
"The UK and Albanian governments work together to take every opportunity to intercept the work of people smugglers and speed up the removal of Albanians with no legal right to be in the UK," a spokesperson said.
Other prisoners on deportation flights had been offered similar amounts that Mark described. He said he is "not going back there again" and will look for work and "be a good guy".
But while the Government tries to deter illegal migrants - and it has heavily focused on Albanians, who make up huge portions of those attempting to enter via small boats - others said they aim to come back.
Some said they will attempt a return within just days.
"It's not a problem for me. I'll go back whenever I want," another said.
However, one Albanian calling himself Azem said he had been threatened with a gun by gangsters over his political activities and a psychologist in the UK worried he had been mentally tortured before he left his home country.
The Home Office said its decision to deport him had taken into account his experiences and he would still be sent back.
Cooperation between the UK and Albania has seen Tirana step up police checks at its border.
While a sharp drop has been seen in Albanians arriving in small boats, the true test of how much the agreement works will be seen over summer, as the weather improves for Channel crossings.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has agreed a deal to strengthen cooperation with the European Union on migration.
British agencies will work with Frontex, the EU's border organisation, on issues including the small boat crossings.