Is Albania Accepting Italy’s Unwanted Immigrants to Speed up its EU Accession?

An overcrowded refugee boat capsizes in the Mediterranean (Photo: NTB)

The Albanian Constitutional Court cleared the path on Monday for the ratification of an immigration agreement between Albania and Italy by ruling that it does not violate the Constitution. 

The agreement, which was signed in November 2023 by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, states that Italy will begin sending immigrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea to Albania from this spring on. Following a lawsuit filed by 30 opposition deputies seeking the agreement’s declaration as unconstitutional and the Assembly’s non-ratification, the Constitutional Court temporarily stopped the agreement’s potential ratification.

Stark contrast to the stalemate in the Rwanda deal in the UK, the Italy-Albanian agreement is likely to be successful.

Oppositional Objections

The opposition in Albania is arguing that the agreement’s protocol violates its territorial sovereignty, citing Italian law implementation in two centers for immigrants’ reception and sheltering.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the protocol does not establish territorial boundaries or change the Republic’s territorial integrity. The opposition Democratic Party’s delegation claims the agreement violates human rights, and Amnesty International declared the deal illegal and unenforceable two days after signing.

People rescued by Italian authorities, including those seeking safety in Europe, are under Italian jurisdiction and, as such, cannot be sent to another country until their asylum requests and unique circumstances are reviewed, according to Elisa De Pieri, a regional researcher at Amnesty International.

What is Included in the Agreement?

According to the agreement, the Italian government will pay for the accommodation of immigrants who are stranded in Albania after being caught in the Mediterranean Sea.

Additionally, it states that within 90 days of the protocol’s entry into force, Italy will pay Albania 16.5 million euros in advance. The document states that these funds will be used to cover a range of service costs. Furthermore, the guarantee fund requires the Italian side to open a specific current account at a second-tier bank.

The protocol will be in force for five years and can be renewed for another five years. It emphasizes the Italian authorities’ responsibility to cover housing and health care costs for immigrants. Ensuring these treatments comply with international law. Italy will cover hospital care, equipment, and attorney fees, while Albania will offer services to Italian employees. The agreement also includes that Albania will providing security for immigrants’ transportation.

How did we get Here?

According to the agreement, Italy would establish two centers in Albania, which Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni estimated could eventually handle “a total annual flow of 36 000 people.”

Italy will have jurisdiction over the centers. This indicates the following: “Albania will grant some areas of territory,” according to the Italian Prime Minister, where Italy will establish “two structures” for the management of undocumented migrants: “They will initially be able to receive up to 3 000 people who will stay there for the time needed to process asylum applications and, possibly, for the purposes of repatriation” -added Meloni.

According to the plans, Italy will establish a first reception and screening center at the port of Shëngjin in northwest Albania, which will handle identification and disembarkation procedures. It will establish a second pre-removal center (CPR) in Gjader, also located in northwest Albania, for further procedures. The centers were supposed to open for business in the spring of this year.

Accepting Italy’s unwanted arrivals in this way has been interpreted by some Albanians as an act of gratitude for Italy’s kindness in hosting thousands of Albanian economic refugees in the 1990s. Additionally, this is a demonstration of “European values”, such as solidarity, coming from an EU candidate nation.

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