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Italy announces deal to build migrant centers in Albania

Italy announces deal to build migrant centers in Albania

by host

Italy will build two migrant centers in northwest Albania to house migrants rescued at sea by Italian boats but not those who have made it to shore, the prime ministers of the two countries announced on Monday.

“Mass illegal immigration is a phenomenon no EU member state can handle alone,” said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at a joint news conference in Rome with her Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama.

Meloni, who heads the right-wing, nationalist Brothers of Italy party, came to power in 2022 promising to curb immigration but year-on-year, arrivals have nearly doubled. Brothers of Italy has long promised to crack down on undocumented migrants, including by building processing facilities outside the EU.

Despite Meloni’s election promise to stop boat crossings from North Africa, more than 145,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea so far in 2023, compared to around 88,000 in the same period in 2022.

Prior to becoming prime minister, Meloni said Italy should “repatriate migrants back to their countries and then sink the boats that rescued them.”

As thousands of migrants from outside the EU continue to make their way to Europe, far-right parties from Germany to Spain have demanded the bloc toughen its stance on migration, with some parties surging in the polls off the back of anti-immigration campaigns.

The European Commission offered cash to Tunisia in July to stem migration channels from North Africa to Europe but Tunisia returned it.

The agreement between Italy and Albania is the first of its kind struck between an EU member country and a non-EU state, similar to the plan laid out by the United Kingdom to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which was halted after a court found it unlawful.

“I consider this as a truly European agreement, and I want to say that it shows that it is possible to work together on the management of migratory flows,” Meloni added.

The centers would be under Italian legal jurisdiction, constructed at Italy’s expense, and are expected to open by spring 2024. Children, pregnant women and “vulnerable people” won’t be sent to the centres but will instead have their applications processed in Italy, Meloni said. Under the deal, the centers in northwest Albania will hold up to 36,000 people per year once established.

Earlier this year, Meloni called on the EU to help with a naval blockade to stop migrant crossings in the Mediterranean Sea.

Albania’s prime minister defended his country’s involvement in the plan, calling Italy’s location in the Mediterranean its “curse.”

“When you enter Italy, you enter the EU,” Rama said. “We may not have the strength and capacity to be the solution, but we have a duty towards Italy and the ability to lend a hand.”

The move has been sharply criticized by opposition politicians in Italy as a human rights disaster waiting to happen.

Green Europe party spokesperson Angelo Bonelli said in a statement it was a “blatant violation of conventions and international law.”

“We cannot tolerate the right to asylum being emptied of meaning through agreements that involve moving people to a non-EU country without sufficient guarantees for their fundamental rights,” he said.

Riccardo Magi, the president of the left-wing More Europe party, said on X the deal would lead to the creation of “a sort of Italian Guantánamo, outside of any international standard, outside of the EU without the possibility of monitoring the detention status of the people locked up in these centres.”

“Italy cannot transport people saved at sea to a non-EU country as if they were packages or goods,” he said.

Albania applied for EU membership in 2009, which Meloni reiterated Italy’s support for during the press conference Monday. “Albania continues to be a friendly nation, and despite not yet being a member, it behaves as if it were one. This is one of the reasons why I am proud that Italy has always been one of the countries supporting the enlargement to the Western Balkans,” said Meloni.

And of Albania’s main trading partner, Rama said: “If Italy calls, we respond.”

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