The Albanian government has refused to renew the residency permit of Alice Elizabeth Taylor, blogger at The Balkanista and a regular contributor to Exit and Malta-based The Shift. On Twitter, Taylor reported that the Immigration Directorate had suddenly canceled the process to renew her residency permit.
Taylor has been living in Tirana with her Albanian partner for more than one year. Few weeks ago she wrote about her arduous journey to renew her residency permit. Two weeks ago her application for permit renewal was accepted and she was told to go back to the immigration office to acquire her permit in two weeks. Given that she is pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy, the immigration officer told her that her partner could pick up the renewed permit instead.
Today, Taylor’s partner was told in the same office that her residency permit would not be renewed. When asked about the reason, the officer reportedly said that those were the “orders from above.” Taylor’s partner demanded to have a written document stating the reasons for refusal but the immigration officers refused to do so. Instead, they said that they might issue such a document tomorrow.
Furthermore, the officers told her partner that she needed to exit Albania, enter again, and re-apply for a new permit, after preparing all the required documents once again, some of which take a long time because of her residency history in several countries. However, Taylor has spent a good part of her high-risk pregnancy bedridden and cannot travel long distances. Immigration officers said that they could provide her no help regarding her inability to travel and insisted she leave the country. When asked if she would be able to renew her permit once she meets all the requirements officers had mentioned, officers replied that she would probably not get it, but that she should give it a try.
The timing of the sudden withdrawal of Taylor’s permission to stay comes on the heels of a campaign of government-allied media to paint Taylor as a “Russian spy,” after she gave an interview to TV station RT in which she voiced criticism of the government. Nevertheless, Taylor was in the past frequently cited, even by Prime Minister Rama, for her reviews highlighting Albanian nature and culture.
The cancellation of Taylor’s residency permit therefore appears to be a direct attack on the freedom of the press and a retaliation against the criticism of one of the few independent journalists in Albania.
Even though press freedom in Albania has been among the worst in Europe, the European Union has frequently ignored the threats against journalists, even when coming from the Prime Minister’s mouth. When Prime Minister Rama attacked the press openly during a free speech event funded by the EU, EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn refused to condemn his words by stating “everyone has the right to express their viewpoints.”