ROME: Italy’s plan to build reception centres in Albania for migrants arriving by sea could be a blueprint for deals between the European Union and non-member countries, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in an interview published on Tuesday (Nov 7).
The agreement announced on Monday is the first example of a non-EU country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation. It has echoes of a controversial attempt by the British government to send thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda.
It was unveiled by Meloni and her Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, and aims to bring down migrant arrivals by sea in Italy, which are up by about 65 per cent in the year to date to over 145,000.
“I believe it (the deal) could become a model of cooperation between EU and non-EU countries in managing migration flows … I think this agreement features a bold European spirit,” Meloni told Il Messaggero daily.
She said the European Commission had been informed and had not given any negative feedback on the initiative.
The Albanian centres would initially host some 3,000 people when they open in spring 2024, Meloni said on Monday, noting Rome hoped to scale up their capacity to process 36,000 migrants a year.
Asked about the scheme by two Italian newspapers, Rama said Italy had not been the only EU country to propose such a deal, but he said he accepted Rome’s offer as a sign of “gratitude”.
In the 1990s, Italy took in large numbers of Albanians and Rome is now one of the most solid backers of Albania’s EU accession hopes. “We are friends, and between friends you help one another,” Rama said.
The Albanian leader said the deal with Italy still needed to be put into practice, and predicted that negotiating repatriation agreements with African nations for failed asylum seekers would be “the hardest thing”.
In comments to La Stampa daily, he showed scepticism about how much impact the agreement would have.
“It will not solve anything, but she (Meloni) asked us for help and we gave it,” he said.