Italian officials question Meloni deal to divert migrants to Albania | ET REALITY


Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday announced an agreement she had reached with Albania, a non-European Union nation, to outsource migrant processing and containment as a breakthrough for one of the country’s most defining challenges. continent.

“I think it could become a model of cooperation between the EU and non-EU countries in managing migration flows,” Meloni told the Rome-based newspaper. The messenger. “I think this agreement presents a bold European spirit.”

But Italian politicians, caught off guard by Meloni’s announcement in Rome on Monday, questioned whether the deal – reached earlier this week with the nation across the Adriatic Sea – was legal, ethical, practical or even real.

“Before making further comments, we need to understand what exactly they want to do,” Anitta Hipper, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said Tuesday.

While the details of the deal remain hazy, Italy’s motivation could not be clearer. Last year, the country saw migrant arrivals from Tunisia and Libya increase to more than 145,700 from 88,400 last year, according to data of the Italian Ministry of the Interior. As the European Union struggles to modernize and reform the immigration system and achieve consensus among its member states, immigrants continue to arrive and leaders like Meloni feel the urgency of the issue.

Meloni, who came to power in part on anti-immigrant hostility, including threats to impose naval blockades against migrant boats, knows that fear of immigrants is a powerful political issue. He has struck deals with Tunisia and renewed agreements with Libya, advocated for European Union partners to share the burden, and sought to impose tough penalties on migrant smugglers, portraying the problem as a human trafficking crime.

It has introduced rules against rescue ships operated by non-governmental organisations, which Italy has accused of working with human traffickers, forcing them to divert migrants to distant northern ports.

But this week’s deal (Italy’s Interior Ministry said it had no details on it) was Meloni’s latest attempt to prepare a solution to a system that often appears broken and hits Italy the hardest. But Italy is not the only one seeking to outsource the problem.

The British government has tried to take asylum seekers to Rwanda, a country that wants to pay for the evaluation of the migrants’ applications, as well as relocation costs if the migrants stay in Rwanda. British courts have rejected the proposal as illegal. But it is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top priorities, and he is appealing.

Greece also receives billions of euros from Brussels to keep migrants at bay and has virtually turned some of its islands into high-security reception centres.

The deal Meloni announced would essentially turn Albania, the source of hundreds of thousands of migrants heading to Italy since the 1990s, into a Greek island for Italy.

Italy, which has received less money from Europe than Greece and faces intense domestic opposition to new migrant centers, has paid for years to help Libya patrol its coast to prevent migrants from leaving. This has sparked intense scrutiny from critics who say the Italian government is complicit in the human rights abuses, including rapes, that take place in the camps where migrants are detained.

This year, Meloni’s government approved an immigration package to create more government-controlled centers and detention facilities to house migrants while they await the results of asylum applications. But Italy’s regions opposed the construction of detention and repatriation centers on their territory. Some conservative governors did not want the centers in their backyards, while progressives opposed putting immigrants in prison-like conditions.

“Everyone has the fundamental right to seek asylum, regardless of where they come from or how they arrive,” Imogen Sudbery, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Europe, said in a statement. “This latest decision by Italy is part of a worrying trend that undermines this right.”

“The relocation process suffers from numerous defects from a moral, legal and practical point of view,” he added.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania, a candidate for EU membership, said his country did not receive money from Italy and had accepted the deal out of the goodness of his heart.

“If Italy calls, Albania will be there,” he said, speaking fluent Italian and standing next to Meloni on Monday afternoon at the prime minister’s palace in Rome. He said Albania would always be indebted to Italy for accepting thousands of Albanians during the 1990s; She said they had fled “hell and hoped for a better life.”

Under the agreement, Italy will finance the construction of two centers on Albanian territory that will be under Italian jurisdiction and house up to 3,000 migrants at a time, Meloni told reporters. He said Italian officials would unload the migrants at a center in the Albanian port of Shengjin, identify them and transport them to another center inland, where the migrants are expected to stay for about 28 days, although asylum applications often take time. months, if not years. Children and pregnant women are exempt from attending Albanian centers.

He added that Albania would provide police officers for security and external surveillance of the two centres. And if Italy rejects the migrants’ asylum applications, Albania will expel them to their countries of origin. Meloni said that if asylum applications were processed quickly, up to 36,000 migrants could be processed annually on Albanian territory.

But experts said Albania would have to expropriate parts of its territory to bring them under Italian jurisdiction. It was unclear how Italy could ensure the proper functioning of an asylum system in which judges in one country evaluate the cases of asylum seekers in another.

Judges usually talk to immigrants and hear their appeals. Furthermore, to detain immigrants in these centers, an Italian official has to justify the decision in writing and another judge has to validate it. Experts said it was unclear whether the decision to take the migrants to Albania would be made on a boat, after they had arrived in Italy.

“These are all measures and practices that are good for propaganda, but not so much for real political solutions,” said Guido Savio, an immigration lawyer with the Italian Association for Legal Studies on Immigration.

“It has a symbolic value,” he added, “but, from a numerical point of view, it is like emptying the sea with a bucket.”

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