British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged Tuesday to clear a backlog of asylum-seeker applications as he announced new measures aimed at curbing the number of migrants reaching the UK by crossing the English Channel on small boats.

Sunak said he was adding hundreds of workers to process asylum claims and to clear the backlog of more than 143,000 pending applications by the end of 2023. The extra staff will also focus on the swift removal of Albanian migrants who have arrived via the Channel in increasing numbers, Sunak said.

More than 10,000 Albanians have arrived by that route to seek asylum this year, making up nearly a fourth of the record 44,000 people who traversed the waterway on small boats and made it to the UK.

Britain recorded the arrival of only a few dozen Albanian asylum-seekers in 2020. British officials have said the large increase may be due to increased organization by Albanian criminals working in northern France.

Sunak and others have insisted that Albania is a “fundamentally safe country” and that most asylum claims from its citizens are unfounded. The country in the Western Balkans is seeking European Union membership.

“Over the coming months, thousands of Albanians will be returned home, and we will keep going with weekly flights until all the Albanians in our backlog have been removed,” Sunak told Parliament.

He said Britain received formal assurances from Albania’s government that “they will protect genuine victims and people at risk of re-trafficking, allowing us to detain and return people to Albania with confidence”.

The British government’s focus on Albanian migrants recently angered Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who said the UK should “stop discriminating” people from his country to excuse its own migration policy failures.

Sunak said he planned to introduce new legislation early next year to ensure people who arrive illegally cannot remain in the country.

“The only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes, and as we get a grip of illegal migration, we will create more of those routes,” he said.

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