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Giorgia Meloni’s Albania migration plan will please nobody

Giorgia Meloni meets Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama this week. Credit: Getty

November 8, 2023 - 11:00am

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni struck a deal with her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama this week to build two centres in Albania to host migrants attempting to reach Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. The deal is intended to outsource the increasing number of asylum applications being processed in Italy, as the country is the closest destination for migrants, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, attempting to reach Europe through North Africa. 

More than 145,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s shores since the start of 2023, compared to 88,000 people making the same journey the previous year. Meloni faces rising pressure from her supporters to end mass migration as numbers continue to soar, while Brussels sets roadblocks for her to achieve her aim. 

Consequently, Meloni has opted for a lighter solution with Albania in an attempt to appease both sides. “Mass illegal immigration is a phenomenon that EU member states cannot tackle alone. Collaboration [with] non-EU states can be decisive,” Meloni said at a press conference alongside Rama. But Albania’s Right-wing opposition party has criticised the decision, claiming that there is already an exodus of Albanian citizens seeking better opportunities abroad, and that it cannot afford to become a migrant processing centre for Europe. 

Nonetheless, the deal is being described by Meloni as “innovative”, since it is the first time that an EU country is redistributing migrant applications to a European country not yet part of the bloc. While the agreement has been compared to the UK’s attempted settlement with Rwanda to outsource asylum requests, there are key differences that make Italy’s choice to use Albania a riskier option.  

Unlike the UK, Italy needs final approval from the EU to reach a decision without risking punitive measures. But the European Commission remains hard to persuade about halting the rising number of migrants entering the bloc, reacting sceptically to the arrangement reached by Italy and Albania. This, even though the deal is a diluted version of the naval blockade Meloni had promised her electorate before becoming prime minister. 

A commission spokesperson said that “it is important that any such arrangement is in full respect of EU and international law.” While Brussels has attempted to punish Right-wing governments in the EU, such as Hungary and Poland, for sealing their borders, Meloni has taken a different approach by attempting to win Brussel’s approval. 

Yet Meloni will suffer significant electoral losses if she fails to keep the key promise she made to stop illegal migration by blocking entries. If migrants can disembark in Europe, it wouldn’t be hard for them to cross borders and enter the bloc through Albania. The Albanian community in Italy is the largest in the EU, representing 11% of non-citizens in the country with working permits, according to the Italian Ministry of Labour. 

The number of illegal Albanian immigrants are hard to quantify because they remain unregistered, but many Albanians attempt to reach Italy for work opportunities. It is unclear how the Albanian government can hold migrants in its facilities, or how it can repatriate those whose applications are rejected. The deal also appears to stipulate that only the migrants rescued by the Italian coastguards will be taken to the port of Shëngjin, in northern Albania, raising questions as to where the migrants rescued by NGO boats will disembark, given that their closest port of entry remains in southern Italy. 

Meloni is attempting to avoid alienating the EU while simultaneously signalling to her base that she is making strides in tackling an issue she has pledged to resolve. With this agreement, though, she might find herself failing to appease either side.


Alessandra Bocchi is a journalist.

alessabocchi

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Katharine Eyre
KE
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

“But the European Commission remains hard to persuade about halting the rising number of migrants entering the bloc, reacting sceptically to the arrangement reached by Italy and Albania.”
Yes, and this is probably one of the biggest reasons why more and more people are going off the EU. It is also the reason why – in the absence of “a European solution”, which will never come – more and more countries are just starting to do their own thing.
“Berlaymont” is basically shorthand for “on a completely different planet to the rest of us”.

Last edited 5 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The European Commission is as you say a major stumbling block to any solution. It is , however, pretty hard to discourage people who are living at a lower standard of life to most Europeans from coming to Europe particularly when the immigration is underwritten by free accommodation and free stuff.

Britain discovered that housing Jewish refugees seeking illegal entry to Palestine after WW2 in grim detention camps in Cyprus did little to stop the flow. Unless Albanian or Ruanda detention is considerably harsher than any current European court would be inclined to countenance it is unlikely to deter many attempts to immigrate. Spain’s expulsion from Granada or forced conversion of the defeated Moors in the 15th Century are not policies that it would be practical to reproduce today short of the establishment of genuine rather than so called far right governments.

Gandydancer x
GX
Gandydancer x
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Then genuine far right governments will be established, if only they are willing to instantiate the democratic will, It is disgraceful that Meloni views the choice between do what she said she would do and kowtowing to Brussels as some sort of dilemma.

What in the above comment triggered “Awaiting for approval”?

Last edited 5 months ago by Gandydancer x
Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
5 months ago

Thanks to Ms Bocchi for this Reaction piece. So, a commission spokesperson said that “it is important that any such arrangement is in full respect of EU and international law.” The pro-immigration lobby can always use “international law” to thwart initiatives that are aimed at limiting the influx. My problem with them playing the “international law” card is that international law is clearly not fit for purpose, yet it seems to be unchangeable. Consequently, it is best ignored.
The European Commission still seems to be dominated by the pro-immigration lobby, despite the general trend in the member states. It could be many years before the present lot of commissioners are replaced by people who reflect the changed state of European politics.

Last edited 5 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Gandydancer x
GX
Gandydancer x
5 months ago

Does “international law” really prevent that they be expeditiously replaced? If not, what does?

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago

I feel truly sorry for the Italians – particularly in the south where most of this is happening. Whatever we’re experiencing here, I think they’re getting impacted even more.
It is ridiculous that they are unable to take reasonable measures to control illegal immigration.
Some of the countries early in the migration chain through the EU clearly rely on the “pass through” effect to avoid most of the consequences – they know that most illegals will keep travelling north and west for Germany and the UK.
The Schengen zone is great in theory, but is proving a boon to organised crime and people smuggling in practice.
Another problem the EU isn’t solving. And won’t. They don’t even pretend to help national governments solve this. Almost as if they care about the rights of illegal immigrants above that of EU citizens …

Steve White
SW
Steve White
5 months ago

Here’s an innovative idea. Don’t allow any migrations into Europe at all. Does that sound radical? It’s not. What’s radical is allowing migrations of people to cross your borders. Borders matter. Invite the 3rd world in, and become the 3rd world.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve White