Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visits Albania to thank the country for hosting two migrant centers


TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni travels to Albania to thank the country for its willingness to host thousands of asylum seekers and tour the sites of two migrant detention centers.

In November, Meloni and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama signed a 5-year contract in which Albania agreed to host up to 3,000 migrants rescued from international waters every month, while Italy processes their asylum claims. With the processing of asylum applications expected to take around a month, the number of asylum seekers sent to Albania could reach 36,000 within a year.

Meloni has defended the controversial plan as a necessary part of her crackdown on migration, aiming to deter would-be refugees from paying smugglers to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean. Human rights groups and opposition lawmakers have warned that refugee protections could be at risk.

Meloni will start her visit to the small Western Balkan country in Gjader, a former military airport 80 kilometers north of the capital Tirana, and where work on one of two migrant centers has begun.

She will then move to Shengjin Port, 20 kilometers southwest of Gjader, where an accommodation center is located in a rectangular area of ​​4,000 square meters (4,800 square feet). Shengjin Migrant Shelter is ready to house migrants.

Meloni’s visit comes a day before the European elections of June 6 and 9, in which migration was a key campaign issue. Meloni and her right-wing allies have long demanded that European countries share a greater share of the migration burden, and have presented the Albania deal as an innovative solution to a problem that has plagued the EU for years.

Meloni, from the far-right Brothers of Italy party, has also supported her the so-called Mattei plan to fund projects in African countries along migrant routes in return for better controls, while continuing with plans to run migrant centers in Albania.

The two processing centers in Albania, Italy will cost more than 600 million euros over five years. The facilities would be fully managed by Italy, while it would expedite processing asylum applications from migrants. They are expected to be fully operational later this year.

Both centers fall under Italian jurisdiction, while Albanian guards will provide external security.

Italy would welcome the migrants if they are granted international protection, or organize their deportation from Albania if they are refused.

Those apprehended in Italy’s territorial waters, or by non-governmental organization rescue ships, would retain their right under international and EU law to seek asylum in Italy and have their claims processed there.

Data from the Italian Ministry of the Interior show that the number of migrants arriving in Italy is much lower compared to the same period last year: as of Tuesday, 21,574 people had arrived in Italy by boat so far this year, compared to 51,628 in the same period in 2023.

Albania is not a member of the European Union and the idea of ​​sending asylum seekers outside the bloc is controversial. The deal was endorsed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen as an example of ‘out-of-the-box thinking’, but has been widely criticized by rights groups.

Rama, from the left-wing ruling Socialist Party of Albania, has said the deal is a sign of gratitude on behalf of Albanians who found refuge in Italy and “escaped hell and imagined a better life” after the collapse of communism in the Albania of the nineties.

According to Rama, Tirana has rejected requests from other countries to conclude agreements similar to Italy’s.

Italy’s centre-left opposition has called the deal an expensive propaganda exercise ahead of the European elections and a shameful attempt to turn Albania into Italy’s ‘Guantánamo’.

A group of thirty conservative lawmakers from the Albanian opposition presented the case the Constitutional Court in a failed attempt to block the Italy-Albania deal on human rights grounds.


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