Italy’s left-wing Democratic Party has called for Albania’s Socialist Party, led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, to be expelled from the European Socialist Party over the controversial deal he struck with conservative Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to process asylum seekers picked up from Italian waters in northern Albania. Read more.
Meanwhile, the deal has come under fire in Italy, with criticism coming also from within the government as well as the Vatican. Read more.
On Monday, Rama and Meloni signed an agreement to send all asylum seekers picked up by Italian vessels in the Mediterranean to the coastal city of Shengjin. There, they would be processed in two centres under Italian jurisdiction, and once a decision is made, they would be removed from the country.
Peppe Provenzano, head of foreign affairs in the Italian Democratic Party, said: “We will raise the issue at the PSE congress, which will be held tomorrow and the day after in Malaga, in the presence of all the big socialists of the continent, from the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz”.
Provenzano said that the agreement violates international law and betrays socialist family values.
“For Rama, the process [of leaving the European party] should be quick, given that he is a simple observer and Albania is not part of the EU,” he added.
The Italian left’s MEPs have also filed an interrogation request with the European Commission.
Rama himself responded to the criticism – and addressed the rumours that some within the Italian left wanted his expulsion from the European group.
“With some delay, they denied it, but pointing out that the agreement Albania made with the Italian government is seriously wrong in all respects […] Trying to help Italy in this situation […] maybe it is simply right”, Rama said.
The deal has caused outrage in Italy and Albania due to questions over its legality and the fact that the decision was taken without parliamentary or public consultation.
Under the new deal, two areas in the north of Albania, the ports of Shengjin and Gjader, will be used for the reception, evaluation, and processing of asylum seekers and refugees.
But while Meloni defends the agreement as the result of “an enormous amount of work, especially diplomatic work”, without which she says Italy would face a greater emergency, it appears that many, even among her allies in the government, are not happy with the deal.
The ruling coalition is divided on the deal, with Matteo Salvini’s Lega (ID) and Antonio Tajani’s Forza Italia (EPP) appearing to disagree even though sources from the prime minister’s office have ruled out any tensions within the government.
On the side of Lega, some members have pointed out that the agreement, although ‘useful and positive’, is less effective than what Salvini did when he was interior minister in 2018.
“Italy has to be Italy. And Salvini, when he was interior minister, stopped illegal immigration”, said MP Andrea Crippa, one of Salvini’s deputies in the party.
Forza Italia, however, showed its support publicly, with leader and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani explaining how the agreement with Albania meets all EU and international law standards, while in Brussels, the European Commission is scrutinising the agreement to establish its legality.
“It’s not Guantanamo, as some have said. It’s a humanitarian solution”, Tajani insisted, while a spokeswoman for the European Commission confirmed that the executive was currently studying the deal, admitting that “we don’t have a final judgement yet, we are analysing the details”.
But the Democratic Party and the 5 Star Movement have rejected the agreement outright and accused Meloni of violating the Italian constitution and international law.
“Yesterday, we learned of an agreement with Albania that cannot even be called an agreement. In Italy, international agreements go through parliament, and for us, it is unacceptable that this one does not go through parliament. They do not do it because they know it violates Article 10 of the Constitution, for which asylum is sought on the territory of the Republic”, said PD secretary Elly Schlein.
The agreement, however, states that the centres in Albania would be considered Italian territory and under Italian jurisdiction for the purposes of the deal.
Criticism also came from former PM and 5-Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte.
“It is incomprehensible that ministers like Salvini, Tajani and Piantedosi are keeping quiet about this project that Meloni is packaging as a temporary mass deportation that will cost us so much”, he said.
“We are talking about over €80 million, €00 million in guarantee funds. Yet another commercial on the skin of the Italians, who are not stupid”, Conte added.
Italy has pledged to cover the construction of the centres, all running costs, and the costs of all asylum seekers from the moment they are picked up until they leave Albania.
Even the Vatican appeared perplexed by the deal, with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), describing it as an admission of failure to manage the migration phenomenon.
“It is not clear why the reception here is not better arranged”, Zuppi said.
Details of the deal
The information published states that Italy can use areas of Albanian territory to establish two closed structures at Italy’s expense. There will be a maximum limit of 3,000 people sheltered at any one time, with up to 36,000 over the year. Italy will also cover all of their expenses.
The centres will be under Italian jurisdiction and guarded by Italians. Should any individuals leave the facility, Albanian police will return them.
The agreement also states that the maximum stay for each individual cannot be longer than the time needed for the asylum procedure to be completed. At the end of the procedure, the Italian side facilitated the departure of the migrants from Albania at their own expense, regardless of whether asylum was granted or not.
Shengjin is a resort town with a winter population of just a few thousand. But in the summer, its population increases more than tenfold as thousands of tourists from Kosovo, Albania and other nearby countries stay in apartments and hotels along the five-kilometre shoreline.
In recent years, significant private investment has gone into improving the local tourism industry, with more plans afoot to improve international transport links.
Not a solution
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee has also raised concerns over the idea, warning the deal is “dehumanising and strikes a further blow to the principle of solidarity, which is fundamental to the creation of a functioning European asylum system.”
Italy Country Director at the IRC, Susanna Zanfrini, said the Italian government’s plan to build reception centres for refugees and asylum seekers in Albania is a testament to its disproportionate focus on preventing people from arriving in the EU rather than creating safe and legal avenues for those seeking refuge.
It also raises legal issues over “the application of Italian jurisdiction in Albania as it remains unclear how people on the move could access asylum and exercise their basic rights in a non-EU territory.
“The notion of processing migrants used in the debate is also deeply dehumanising,” Zanfrini added.
More than 145,000 people have come ashore in Italy in 2023, compared with around 88,000 in the same period in 2022.
Meloni has promised to crack down on migration, but finding a solution has been difficult. Calls from the far-right Brothers of Italy party have demanded such facilities to be set up outside the European Union, proposing, for example, North Africa, but no country was willing to consider it.
Rama said Albania cannot solve Italy’s migrant problem but can assist and collaborate.
“We have a history of hospitality”, Rama underlined, recalling that Albania welcomed more than half a million war refugees and those fleeing to survive the ethnic cleansing by Serbia in Kosovo.
“We also gave refuge to thousands of Afghan women when NATO abandoned Afghanistan and to a few thousand Iranians,” he added.
(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com, Federica Pascale | Euractiv.it)