Op/Ed: A risky charade: Albanian PM’s deal with Italy to host EU’s irregular migrants is wrong and impractical

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 9, 2023 21:00

Op/Ed: A risky charade: Albanian PM’s deal with Italy to host EU’s irregular migrants is wrong and impractical

Story Highlights

  • The controversial deal between the Albanian PM and Italian counterpart is wrong and risky for Albania as well as impractical for Italy. 

Related Articles

Eureka! Finally, a solution has been found for the issue of irregular migration to Europe, which has been a fundamental problem not only for the European Union's two large southern members, Italy and Spain, but for the EU as whole. The solution is Albania. A bilateral deal between Albania and Italy would see Italy take over extraterritorial jurisdiction over two camps in northwestern Albania, where refugees who are rescued at sea by the Italian navy and other state vessels can be hosted until their asylum cases can be processed.

The experiment is to start with Italy. News of the deal first came from Italian media, noting that the Prime Minister of Albania, during his official visit to Italy, signed an agreement with the government of the Republic of Italy that provides for the establishment of a reception center at Albania's third most important port, Shengjin, for refugees from third countries held or rescued at sea by Italian authorities, as well as a camp for settling them a bit further inland. According to the details made public by the Italian media, which seems to be familiar with the agreement, up to 36,000 refugees will be in Albania per year, which does not include pregnant women and children.

Even though at the time this article is being published the full agreement has not been made public, from what is known thus far, the deal signed in Rome by the Albanian and Italian prime ministers is wrong, dishonest and dangerous.

First, an agreement like the one signed on Nov. 6 does not solve the issue of irregular migration that is coming in through ever larger waves in the Mediterranean Sea. This is a serious and ongoing crisis that belongs to and should be solved by the European Union as a whole, not just Italy. Or Spain.

The EU's failure to deal with the crisis cannot be fixed by an Italian agreement with a poor and small non-EU country like Albania. The idea is simply ridiculous. But it's only one aspect. It does however serve to shows the lack of seriousness on the part of Italy and the EU on a very serious issue like irregular migration, one hand; while on the other hand showing how ridiculous is the political behavior of Albania, whose leaders are ready to violate any public and state interest for the short-term interests of their power.

Instead of the Italian government making all efforts to solve the problem with the contribution of the EU, it finds Albania to place irregular migrants in camps in its territory. 

The deal is bad, not just because it does not solve the problem but also because it tries to hide it.

None of the thousands of people risking their lives to reach Europe dream of a future in which they are placed in camps in a small and poor country just outside of the EU’s wall. Moreover, this is also a country that its own citizens are abandoning at high rates due to lack of economic opportunities. For example, in Italy alone Albanians are largest non-EU nationality with approximately 500,000 migrants, leaving behind second-place Morocco, for example, as people coming from Africa.   

Italy's agreement with the Prime Minister of Albania does not save the European Union from a crisis that has the potential to expand, considering the dramatic developments in the Middle East or whole territories in Africa that are no longer governable.

But the agreement does not help Italy either. The arguments presented that Albania is helping Italy by repaying its debt are false because that is not the way to help Italy. In this matter, Albania has neither the capacity nor the means to help Italy.

The agreement is deceitful and unsustainable precisely because it  hides this truth. It is presented as a humanitarian plan, and especially in a context where Albania owes Italy for the Albanians it hosted during the country’s difficult post-communist transition. If we follow that logic, then Italy owes a lot to the United States, which has become a haven for millions of Italians over the last hundred or so years. If you were to ask any normal Italian if this is the way for Albania to show gratitude to Italy for the thousands of immigrants who landed in Italy in the nineties, they would laugh out loud. But in a final analysis, if the agreement with Albania would save Italy and with it the EU, we here in Albania would feel good and happy that we would not only have paid off the debt to Italy, but we would also feel proud that we had saved Italy and the EU from a very big problem. But this is all ridiculous.

Yes, the agreement can potentially help Georgia Meloni with her power base and with her internal political struggles in Rome. Let's remember that Meloni came to power with promises to use drastic measures to address the issue of irregular migration. The Meloni government can present the agreement with Albania as a promising start to deal with the migration issues, an issue that is costing her political support.

While it is clear that this agreement is absolutely not a solution for Italy; its implementation in practice will be very difficult and, if it can be done at all, very expensive. The refugees that Italy will place in the territory of Albania will be hosted in camps that will have Italian extraterritorial jurisdiction. It is almost like placing them in Italian territory. Moreover, by bringing the migrants to Albania, the Italian state will have to foot the costs for transportation, security, provisions and management, including the costs of Italian police and civilian forces -- and this will all be more expensive in Albania than if they were placed in Italy.

But if hosting, accommodating and keeping them in camps in Albania is more expensive, then why would Italy use Albanian territory when itself has a lot more room?

This is another reason why the agreement is unreasonable. From what has been made public, the agreement does not specify what will happen to the people hosted in the camps who do not meet the criteria to gain asylum status in Italy or another EU country. If they will be "repatriated" as the details provided show, what will be the formula? Are the migrants to be returned to their first arrival country? Is this written in the agreement? If not, where will they stay? Because repatriating them to their countries of origin requires bilateral agreements with those countries. And many refugees will lack travel documents. In these circumstances, the majority of them will remain in Albania. 

Albania gains nothing from this agreement. It's not just about financial gain, either, although this should not be excluded. 

Furthermore, this agreement does not help Albania in its relations with Italy. It's a client-patron relationship that ought to not exists in post-communist Albania.  But, unfortunately, this type of relationship continues to this day -- and not just with Italy. This type of client-patron relationship which we believe is not liked in Rome either should be refused in Tirana -- without any doubt. 

This agreement doesn't help Albania's efforts to integrate into the European Union either. European integration does not progress if Albania signs client-patron agreements with member countries.

In fact, turning Albania into a place with extraterritorial locations to host thousands of irregular migrants might force the EU to tighten those external borders further. 

Look at the relative numbers alone. If Albania receives 36,000 people as the deal prescribes, in proportion to the small country’s population it would be the same as if Germany -- the most welcoming state in the EU -- taking in 1.4 million migrants. Any German government that would accept such a deal would no doubt not be in power long.

This agreement is clearly against Albania's interests.

It is part of a prominent trend in Albanian politics, with leaders and statesmen willing to enter any agreement to serve their personal interests. In 2013, Rama was willing to allow Albania to be used to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. A massive popular protest prevented the move. Two years later, Albania provided shelter to MEK, a former terrorist organization claiming to represent the political opposition in Iran. If the future of Iran would be MEK's Mujahideen, then it is certain that future will be, perhaps, darker than the present one.  They have been a massive headache for Albania ever since. The first 300 MEK members were actually brought over by the center-right Prime Minister Sali Berisha, but the thousands that followed were under Rama's government were a tenfold increase in number. These refugees taken in for “humanitarian reasons” turned their camp in Albanian territory into a base of aggression against Iran. The consequences of this were an unnecessary confrontation with Iran and almost the virtual collapse of the Albanian state services from cyberattacks on Albania that either came from Iran or were sponsored or ordered by it. This dangerous policy continued with the Afghans after the Western-friendly government collapsed -- Albania was the only country found to provide them shelter and many of these refugees remain in Albania to this day.

Last but not least, the agreement speaks loudly, clearly and sufficiently about the state of democracy in Albania.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 9, 2023 21:00