In a bid to address the surging numbers of sea migrants, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has announced plans to establish hosting centres in Albania. The decision emerged as a response to the nearly doubled numbers of migrants documented over the past year. Meloni, alongside Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, inked an agreement on November 6, 2023, outlining a collaborative effort to process individuals rescued from the Mediterranean by Italian-flagged vessels in Albania.
According to Prime Minister Meloni, the centres are slated to accommodate approximately 3,000 people upon their spring 2024 opening, with plans to scale up capacity to process 36,000 migrants annually. Italy plans to establish a migrant identification facility at the Albanian port of Shëngjin and a repatriation centre inland, both operating under Italian jurisdiction. The move comes in response to a significant increase in arrivals, with over 145,000 individuals reaching Italy's shores in 2023 compared to around 88,000 during the same period in 2022, as shown in the latest data provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Prime Minister Meloni's administration has been proactive in addressing the issue, recently tightening jail terms for human smugglers and expanding the number of detention centres for migrants awaiting possible repatriation. Consistent with a report by Reuters, the Prime Minister emphasized the European collaborative nature of the agreement, stating, "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."
Albanian Prime Minister Rama expressed a sense of duty to assist Italy, citing the special relationship between the two countries. “Trying to help Italy in this situation, where no one in Europe seems to have a solution that can be shared by all is perhaps not the best, but it is certainly the least that Albania must and can do!” – he wrote on Twitter (X).
However, public reactions are mixed with a wave of criticism regarding the lack of social consultation before adopting the agreement.
In the story by AP News, a 27-year-old human rights activist Arilda Lleshi coined the notion of the many; “It seems our prime minister [Albania] continuously takes over to resolve the world’s issues to get some credit internationally, without consulting with people beforehand” – she said.
Higher officials are also predominantly skeptical of this initiative. Spanish socialist MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar expressed his concerns to Euractiv, stating that this Italy-Albania deal poses particular challenges. He highlighted that the Balkan country is not subject to EU legislation as it is not an EU member state but is only in the process of becoming a candidate country for Union membership.
Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, also did not silence herself on the matter. In a press release dating Monday, November 13, she stated, "The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) raises several human rights concerns and adds to a worrying European trend towards the externalization of asylum responsibilities." Mijatović further warned that, in practice, "the lack of legal certainty will likely undermine crucial human rights safeguards and accountability for violations, resulting in differential treatment between those whose asylum applications will be examined in Albania and those for whom this will happen in Italy."
The agreement involves migrants being transported to Albania on Italian ships, with Italy committed to facilitating the return of individuals whose applications for international protection are denied. The pact specifies that migrants will reside in these centres for the required duration to promptly process asylum applications, and there is a possibility of return if necessary. However, specific details about the repatriation process and the screening location for transfer to Albania are yet to be specified, along with other pressing implications of the agreement.
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