Albanians draped their flag over the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square today as they protested against statements made by Suella Braverman.
More than 1,500 protesters gathered on Westminster Bridge and marched towards the Palace of Westminster asking the Government to respect them as people and their human rights, stating not all Albanians are criminals.
Video footage filmed in the capital showed demonstrators holding national flags with the double-headed eagle and banners in their hands.
Nigel Farage blasted the demonstration, tweeting: ‘These people care nothing for our country or the sacrifices of the past. What is happening in London today is a disgrace!’
When the group reached Parliament Square, some peeled off towards Britain’s wartime leader, an act politicians said was calculated to cause insult and fury. As the Albanians filmed themselves standing on the monument, Armed Forces veterans preparing for today’s Remembrance Sunday looked on in disgust nearby.
Later the demonstrators’ path to Downing Street was cordoned off by police, who were booed and jeered.
Tory MP Sir John Hayes said: ‘It’s insulting and staggering that at a time when we remember the two European wars and other 20th-Century conflicts, these protesters have targeted a statue of our great war leader Sir Winston Churchill.
‘That is deeply offensive as we gather in remembrance to the fallen this weekend.’
The Home Secretary came under fire from opposition parties and some of her own side over stark language she used in the Commons earlier this month.
She suggested that only the Tories were ‘serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast’. Albanians have accounted for 12,000 of the record 40,000 migrants who have arrived in the UK this year.
This week it has been revealed the Home Office deported 350 people in October, more than 100 of whom were Albanian nationals.
Albanian protesters also blocked roads in Westminster for two hours yesterday, chanting ‘Shame on you’, and gathered on Westminster Bridge, where a sound system powered by a diesel generator blared Albanian music.
Flashy white Range Rover and Mercedes SUVs with personalised registration plates cruised across the bridge, trailing the Albanian flag and blasting their horns as the crowd cheered them on.
The majority of Albanians in Westminster, however, were eager to demonstrate that they were law-abiding citizens.
Typical among them was one man who held a placard proclaiming: ‘I am Albanian, I am not a criminal, I work very hard & pay more tax than the Prime Minister’s wife.’
Others held signs saying ‘Suella must be sent to Rwanda’ and ‘We need the UK Government to apologise’ – references to Tory plans to send asylum seekers to the African country.
Organisers said that the purpose of the march was to ‘protest against the humiliation of Albanians in Britain’. They added that there is widespread anger that Albanians have been blamed by Britain for influencing ‘the increase in criminality in the country’.
Ms Braverman last month caused a furore when she said Britain faced an ‘invasion’ of illegal migrants, but has since doubled-down on her vow to stem the flow of illegal cross-Channel migrants, 42 per cent of whom are Albanian.
Following Ms Braverman’s comments, Albania’s Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama had accused the UK of discriminating against his countrymen to distract from its ‘policy failures’.
But Mr Rama was the target of anger on his own doorstep yesterday. Thousands marched through the capital Tirana to blame his government for the mass exodus to Britain.
Addressing the crowds, ex-prime minister Sali Berisha said the ‘world sees us as the people of illegal rafts’ and accused Mr Rama of ‘robbing’ the nation of its freedoms.
Tory MP Tom Hunt said: ‘I don’t know how they thought this would somehow endear them to people in this country. How did they think draping their country’s flag over a monument to a national hero was anything but insulting, appalling and counter-productive to what they wanted to achieve?’
Albert Bikaj, an Albanian political scientist, said: ‘For many Albanians, especially for us, descendants of those who fought fascism and Communism, Churchill is seen as an ally and hero.
‘He was a supporter of the Albanian anti-fascist and anti-Communist resistance, as well a friend of the Albanian royal family.’
One of the protesters, 41-year-old Fehmi Shehi, said he was demonstrating for the first time in his life because of the ‘offensive’ language used by the Home Secretary.
Mr Shehi, who said he had arrived in Britain illegally in 1999 but has been a citizen since 2010, added: ‘I’ve lived here for 25 years. I migrated here and my other half is English, I’ve got three children and I live a happy life. I don’t accept the Home Secretary calling us all criminals. My children are half-Albanian. It’s very offensive.’
Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who has advised Mr Rama, expressed his support for the protests on Twitter.
‘We are taxpayers not invaders’… Albanians living in Britain making clear what they think of our very Right-wing Home Secretary in protest at Parliament,’ he tweeted yesterday.
22 people who arrived after crossing the Channel in small boats were recently removed directly from Manston processing centre in Kent.
Almost 7,000 people arrived in the UK via small boat crossings in October, many of whom are vulnerable asylum seekers.
As the peak for small boat crossings tends to be in summer, this suggests that only a very small proportion of those arriving in the UK have committed offences.
But the Home Office said those deported with prior offences had been convicted of ‘serious’ crimes, including rape, murder and assault.
Ms Braverman is under increasing pressure to get a grip on the crisis, with huge backlogs in processing asylum claims and horrific conditions reported at migrant detention centres.
Groups were pictured in the early hours of Saturday at Border Force facilities in Dover, Kent, for the first time since October 31.
The provisional total of arrivals for 2022 had been 39,913 ahead of the weekend, with the figure inching closer to 40,000.
Official figures are expected to be released by the Ministry of Defence on Sunday.
Ms Braverman said the removals would ‘send a clear message’ to people she says have no right to be in the UK.
Those deported in October included a Jamaican rapist who was sentenced to 14 years in jail, an Albanian jailed for more than nine years for violent crime and a Malaysian murderer who had received a life sentence.
Of the 347 people returned during October, 118 were to Albania, 39 to Brazil, 38 to Romania, 26 to Poland and 20 to Lithuania, the Home Office revealed. The majority – 230 – had previously committed offences in their own countries.
But the remaining 117 were immigration offenders including two people who were removed within 24 days of arriving by small boat across the Channel. A third was sent back within 27 days of arrival.
To date this year, the UK has removed over 10,400 individuals via enforced and voluntary returns, including over 2,500 foreign national offenders. Within that time, the French authorities have prevented over 29,000 crossings and destroyed over 1,000 small boats.
Ms Braverman said: ‘The number of people reaching the UK illegally in small boats is at an all-time high and is putting our asylum system under intense strain.
‘By returning hundreds of people coming here illegally and dangerous foreign criminals in this way, we are sending a clear message that those with no right to be in the UK are not welcome here.
‘I have been clear that I am exploring every avenue at my disposal to accelerate their removal.’
But the Home Secretary has come under increasing pressure to get a grip on the asylum system after a series of scandals in recent weeks showed just how overcrowded centres are.
Ms Braverman told the House of Commons last month that the UK’s asylum system is ‘broken’.
It came amid rising tensions in Dover as Manston processing centre, designed to hold 1,600 people for around 24 hours for processing, was revealed to be housing 4,000 people, including families who had been sleeping on floors for up to 30 days.
In October a child ran to the fence at the edge of the Manston centre and handed a note in a bottle to a photographer.
The note described harrowing conditions with dozens kept at the centre for at least a month – instead of the 24 hours it was designed for.
It claimed there were pregnant women and sick detainees inside, and that a disabled child was not being cared for.
The letter, written in broken English, said: ‘We are in a difficult life now… we fill like we’re in prison (sic).’
Witnesses said they saw security guards at the site ushering detainees back inside when members of the press were walking by the fence.
The young girl was among a group of children who broke past security guards and ran over to the fence to throw the bottle to the photographer.
It said: ‘Some of us very sick… ther’s some women’s that are pregnant they don’t do anything for them (sic)… We really need your help. Please help us.
‘It’s not easy for someone who has children… There’s a lot of children they shouldn’t be here. They should be in a school not prison.’
The letter added: ‘We wanna talk to you but they don’t even let us go outside.’
**By Jonathan Rose