Italy plans to construct two detention centers in Albania to house migrants attempting to reach its shores, according to Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s announcement on Monday. This move is aimed at managing the surge in migration figures, which have nearly doubled since she assumed office a year ago.
Meloni outlined that the facilities are scheduled to open next spring, initially accommodating 3,000 individuals. Once fully operational, the government hopes to process up to 36,000 people annually.
Facing increased domestic pressure, Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party has struggled to fulfill its electoral promise of limiting illegal migration. The number of arrivals on Italy’s shores has surpassed 145,000 since January, compared to 88,000 the previous year.
During a joint news conference with Albanian counterpart Edi Rama in Rome, Meloni praised the accord as a “European agreement” and an “innovative solution” to address the escalating crossings over the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa.
Meloni emphasized the collaborative effort required, stating that mass irregular immigration is a challenge that EU member states cannot tackle alone. This partnership marks a significant development, as Albania, though a candidate for European Union status for nearly a decade, has not yet joined the bloc.
The detention centers, situated in the Albanian ports of Shengjin and Gjader, adhere to both European Union and international law, as per Meloni.
One center will process migrants rescued at sea, while the second will house those eligible to apply for asylum in the EU. The fate of those ineligible remains unclear, but the Meloni government emphasizes the threat of immediate deportation as a deterrent.
Immediate deportation is forbidden within the EU due to human rights statutes, allowing all arrivals to apply for asylum. Albania’s non-membership in the EU allows Italy to sidestep the Dublin agreement, shifting the responsibility of caring for migrants upon arrival.
Italy will handle application processing, while Albania will contribute police for security and surveillance. Notably, minors, pregnant women, and vulnerable groups will not be sent to Albania. Details of the deal, including its cost, remain undisclosed, prompting the European Commission to seek detailed information.
The agreement draws parallels with the United Kingdom’s controversial decision to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda, sparking legal challenges.
The announcement has been met with criticism from human rights groups and opposition politicians. The More Europe party secretary, Riccardo Magi, expressed concerns about creating an “Italian Guantanamo.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) condemned Rome’s plan, citing it as a blow to the principle of EU solidarity. Susanna Zanfrini, IRC Italy country director, highlighted the disproportionate focus on preventing arrivals rather than establishing safe and legal avenues for refugees.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) compared the memorandum to previous investments in transit countries, expressing concern over extraterritorial management of asylum applications and accelerated border procedures. MSF emphasized the potential jeopardy faced by migrants redirected to distant ports.