Supporting Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Repatriated Albanians and Offering Free Legal Aid and Support to Prisoners-the Story of AHC in Albania

Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) operated from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and focused its online efforts to help make state institutions more transparent, accountable and responsible. It continued to monitor the legal framework online, the attitude of the institutions towards citizens and to offer free legal assistance to vulnerable groups especially prisoners and pre-detainees.  AHC has been vocal to the authorities and the media on these issues, calling for a higher level of responsibility on the part of state institutions.

The activities organised during this period include:

-Opposing the proposed new amendments to the Albanian Criminal Code by leading 30 CSOs in Albania, AHC addressed the main problems faced by the new amendments to this Code, influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic in which several articles would impose imprisonment on citizens. This initiative was partially successful because the proportionality of the sentences was reduced.

-Offering free legal aid to detainees and addressing prison problems. AHC provided assistance to 40 inmates, by offering them and their families free legal aid during the pandemic. They organised several online communications with the authorities such as Ministry of Justice, General Directorate of Prisons, Prosecution Offices and the Courts in which called for greater accountability and transparency.

-Protection of the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers, and Albanian repatriated citizens. AHC has been in the front line calling for better respect for the fundamental rights of migrants and asylum seekers coming mainly from the Middle East, addressing their claims for lack of medical care, lack of specific examinations for COVID-19 and overcrowding of accommodating institutions in Albania. AHC called on the institutions to verify the conditions of asylum seekers wo have been accommodated in the centres during this period, in order to ensure the protection of their health and lives. In addition, AHC has been vocal in the process of repatriation of Albanian citizens, calling on the Albanian authorities to find an immediate solution to this situation. The government reflected on AHC’s call by accommodating these people for 14 days of quarantine in private hotels. During this period AHC offered 17 returnees and their families psycho-social and psychiatric assistance through the use of online platforms.

AHC was established in 1990 and its’ mission is to contribute to respect for human rights, strengthening the rule of law, and the conduct of free and fair elections, in accordance with the Constitution and international acts applicable to the Republic of Albania. The European Union is supporting AHC in the project “I participate! My voice, my vote counts!”, under the EIDHR programme aiming to strengthen civil society capacity to promote, advocate and support democratic processes, integrity of elections and political transparency.