Albanian Parliament approves deal to hold migrants for Italy

| | Tirana
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Albanian Parliament approves deal to hold migrants for Italy

Friday, 23 February 2024 | AP | Tirana

Albania’s Parliament on Thursday approved a deal for the country to hold thousands of asylum seekers rescued in international waters by Italy while their applications are processed, despite protests from opposition lawmakers and human rights groups.

Under the five-year deal, Albania would shelter up to 3,000 migrants at any one time. With asylum requests expected to take around a month to process, the number of asylum-seekers sent to Albania could reach up to 36,000 in a year.

The idea of sending asylum seekers outside the EU is controversial. The deal was endorsed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen but has been widely criticised by human rights groups. Albania is currently seeking EU membership.

The agreement, signed in November between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, is part of Meloni’s efforts to share the burden of addressing migration with other European countries.

The Parliament, dominated by Rama’s left-wing Socialist Party, voted 77 to zero to approve the deal, with 63 members of parliament marked not present. Most of the conservative opposition, which refused to participate, sat in the hall and tried to disrupt the vote with whistles. The president will also issue a decree as the final step of approval. Rama himself was not present at the vote. A group of 30 lawmakers attempted to block ratification by appealing to the Constitutional Court, but in late January the court said a deal could go ahead. Conservative lawmakers have repeatedly disrupted voting since October to protest the Socialist government. Gazment Bardhi of the opposition Democrats declined to say anything about the agreement, which they have opposed earlier.

Mesila Doda of the small Justice, Integration, Unity Party, whose three members voted for the deal, said that “we are talking about a country that always has supported us in our path.”

Italy’s lower chamber of parliament approved the deal in January, followed by the Senate earlier this month.

Two processing centers will be set up in Albania at a cost to Italy of more than 600 million euros (about USD 650 million) over five years.

The facilities would be fully run by Italy while it fast-tracks their asylum requests. Meloni has said she expects them to become operational by the spring of 2024.

Italy would remain legally responsible for the migrants throughout the process, and would welcome them if they are granted international protection or organize their deportation from Albania if refused.

Those picked up within Italy’s territorial waters, or by rescue ships operated by non-governmental organisations, would retain their right under international and EU law to apply for asylum in Italy and have their claims processed there. Rama has said that Albania stands beside Meloni in a sign of gratitude on behalf of Albanians who found refuge in Italy and “escaped hell and imagined a better life” following the collapse of communism in Albania in the 1990s. Italy has sought help from other EU nations to handle the increasing number of arrivals. Data from Italy’s Interior ministry showed that migrant arrivals in Italy jumped 50 per cent in 2023 from the previous year.

About 155,750 migrants reached Italian shores last year, including more than 17,000 unaccompanied minors, compared to 103,850 in 2022.IA-ITALY-2NDLD MIGRATION

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