Meloni defends migration deal during visit to Albania

Meloni defends migration deal during visit to Albania
Albania will shelter up to 3,000 migrants rescued from international waters each month while Italy processes their asylum requests under a controversial deal between the two countries. /
By bne IntelliNews June 6, 2024

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni traveled to Albania on June 5, where she visited two migrant centres that are set to open in August. 

Last November, Meloni and Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama signed a five-year agreement, under which Albania will shelter up to 3,000 migrants rescued from international waters each month as Italy processes their asylum requests. Given that asylum processes are expected to take about a month, up to 36,000 asylum seekers could be hosted annually.

Meloni, alongside Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, inspected the migrant centres and expressed gratitude to Albania for its role in hosting thousands of asylum seekers while Italy processes their claims.

Meloni's visit started at Gjader, a former military airport 80 kilometres north of Tirana, where construction of one of the two migrant centres has begun. 

She then visited Shengjin port, where a reception centre with housing units and offices is nearing completion. The centre covers an area of 4,000 square metres and is encircled by a five-metre high fence topped with barbed wire.

Acknowledging a two-month delay due to unforeseen structural reinforcements, Meloni confirmed both centres would be operational by August 1, ready to accommodate the first 1,000 migrants. A regular ferry link to Italy will start in mid-September.

“The facilities will be fully run by Italy while it fast-tracks migrants’ asylum requests,” Meloni said. The centres will be under Italian jurisdiction, with Albanian guards providing external security. Italy will either welcome migrants granted international protection or arrange their deportation from Albania if asylum is denied. The project will cost Italy €670mn over five years.

Rama, leader of Albania’s ruling Socialist Party, described the deal as a gesture of gratitude towards Italy, which sheltered thousands of Albanians after the collapse of communism in the 1990s. 

“I have to say that I am proud Albania can serve Italy,” said Rama, according to a transcript published by the Albanian government. 

“Italy has been useful and has served Albania many, many times and if we have the opportunity to be useful to Italy … then let's use this opportunity,” the Albanian prime minister told a joint press conference with Meloni. 

The agreement has strengthened Italy-Albania relations, with Italy expected to step up its support for Albania's EU accession process. 

Italy is a significant trading partner for Albania, particularly in the clothing and textile industry. According to industry insiders, typically, clothes and shoes are exported from Albania almost complete to Italy, where Italian workers add the final touches and packaging, allowing the products to go out to the shops with the prestigious ‘Made in Italy’ label. This sector, however, has been adversely affected by the pandemic and a stronger Albanian lek.

Italian investments in Albania span various other sectors, including energy, agriculture, telecoms and infrastructure, with a considerable Albanian diaspora residing in Italy.

Also speaking at the press conference, Meloni dismissed accusations that her visit to Albania was a political manoeuvre ahead of the European Parliament elections. 

“I would like to thank Prime Minister Rama once again, the entire Albanian people for the opportunity they gave us, for the help they gave us so that we could realise this agreement and which I hope will be an example for the whole EU,” Meloni told the press conference. 

Meloni has talked of the Albanian deal as a potential model for other EU member states to follow. However, the decision to relocate asylum seekers outside the EU is controversial. 

During the news conference, Italian parliamentarian Riccardo Magi from the liberal +Europe party confronted Meloni, criticising the deal as a political ploy.

After the incident, Magi posted a picture of small drops of blood on his shirt on social media. “They'll say it's just a little scratch, two drops of blood. The point is that if this happens to a parliamentarian under the press cameras, imagine what could happen to the poor souls who arrive here with the cameras off,” he wrote on X. 

In Albania, 30 opposition lawmakers unsuccessfully challenged the agreement in the Constitutional Court on human rights grounds.