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Albania Agrees to Host Centres Processing Migrants to Italy

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, on Monday in Rome signed an important memorandum of understanding under which Albania has agreed to host centres managing thousands of would-be migrants to Italy rescued at sea.

“Mass illegal immigration is a phenomenon that no EU state can deal with alone, and collaboration between EU states and non-EU states, for now, is fundamental,” Meloni said.

“The memorandum has three main goals”, she explained; to combat people smuggling and illegal migration, and to welcome only those that have rights to international protection.

Under the deal, Italy will set up two centres in Albania, which Meloni said in the end might handle “a total annual flow of 36,000 people”.

Jurisdiction over the centres will be Italian.

“Albania will grant some areas of territory”, where Italy will create “two structures” for the management of illegal migrants: “they will initially be able to accommodate up to 3,000 people who will remain there for the time needed to process asylum applications and, possibly, for the purposes of repatriation,” said Meloni, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

One centre will be at the northwestern Albanian port of Shëngjin, which will handle disembarkation and identification procedures and where Italy will set up a first reception and screening centre.

In Gjader, also in north-western Albania, it will set up a second, pre-removal centre, CPR, structure for subsequent procedures, ANSA added.

The deal does not apply to immigrants arriving on Italian territory but to those rescued in the Mediterranean by Italian official ships – not those rescued by NGOs. It does not apply to minors, pregnant women and vulnerable persons.

Albania will collaborate on the external surveillance of the centres. A series of protocols will follow that outline the framework. The plan is to make the centres operational in the spring of 2024, Meloni said.

Since Meloni’s far-right government came into power, one of its priorities has been to reduce the number of people arriving illegally in Italy through the Central Mediterranean or Western Balkan migration routes.

This goal explains Italy’s renewed political interest in the Balkans. Several top Italian political figures, including Meloni herself and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, have been regularly meeting counterparts in Slovenia, Croatia and Albania in the last months. A central point of these meetings has been migration.

Data published by the Italian Department of Public Safety show that the number of irregular arrivals in Italy in 2023 until November 1, 2023, was 145,314, a 165-per-cent increase compared to 2021, and 64 per cent higher than 2022.

Albania’s Rama said Albania could not reach a similar agreement with any other country in the EU, citing the unique connections between Albania and Italy and Italians and Albanians.

Sa far, Albania has had limited capacities to host migrants, most of whom use it as transit country to reach EU countries.

Rama added that Albania owes the Italian people a debt for “what they did to us from the first day that we arrived on the shores of [Italy] to find support and to imagine and have a better life”.

After the fall of communism of Albania in 1991, many Albanians fled to Italy’s southern coasts by boat. According to data published in 2021 by the Italian National Institute of Statistic, 230,000 Albanian citizens have acquired Italian citizenship since 1991.

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