Italy is to pay to send migrants to two facilities in Albania under a newly struck deal that has surprised both EU officials and many Albanians.
With the first migrants arriving as early as next spring, Italy will pay to house up to 36,000 asylum seekers in Shen Gjin, an Albanian port-city, and an adjacent decommissioned military base, Gjadri.
Italy will identify and disembark migrants in Albania that its naval ships rescue in the Mediterranean and will establish a reception and screening facility there as well as and a second facility for additional processing.
The agreement does not let Italy send pregnant women, minors, and other vulnerable individuals, or migrants rescued by NGOs.
A prior, similar arrangement between Italy and Tunisia failed when Tunisia’s relations with the EU soured.
The deal shows Albania is already “a European country in every sense”, says Albania’s PM Edi Rama, who wants his country to join the EU.
The European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) has already cooperated with Albania on enhancing capacity in asylum and reception systems of third countries, but this deal with Italy seems to be separate and bilateral.
The European Commission was given “practically zero notice” of Meloni’s deal, according to press reports. An EC spokesperson said they had “asked for detailed information”.
The agreement comes at a critical moment for Italy, with a large influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa continuing to arrive at its beaches.
It has met with opposition in both countries.
PM Rama’s government is turning Albania “into the largest camp for illegal refugees in Europe”, says Albania’s conservative Democratic Party.
The centres will become “a kind of Italian Guantanamo Bay”, said Italian politician Riccardo Magi from the Liberal party +Europe.
The agreement is a “blatant violation of conventions and international law” said Angelo Bonelli, leader of Italy’s Green party.
The deal underlines the countries’ “significant historical, cultural, and emotional” ties, said Rama.