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EU Watching Albania Asylum Deal        02/22 06:29

   Albania has agreed to host two migrant processing centers on its territory 
that will be fully run by Italy, under a deal that worries many human rights 
activists. The European Union, however, sees the agreement as a possible future 
template.

   MILAN (AP) -- Albania has agreed to host two migrant processing centers on 
its territory that will be fully run by Italy, under a deal that worries many 
human rights activists. The European Union, however, sees the agreement as a 
possible future template.

   Italy has long complained about not getting enough help from its EU partners 
in dealing with migrants arriving on its shores from northern Africa. Italy's 
right-wing Premier Giorgia Meloni is keen to show she is taking action as 
arrivals spiked 55% this year, to nearly 160,000 -- though still well below the 
levels reached during the 2015 crisis.

   In January Italy's lower chamber of parliament approved the novel deal with 
non-EU member Albania, followed a month later by the Senate.

   Also in January, Albania's Constitutional Court rejected a legal challenge 
that could have blocked the deal. Albania's parliament approved the deal with 
77 votes to zero on Thursday, while 63 lawmakers were marked not present as the 
opposition refused to participate. The president also will issue a decree as 
the final step of approval.

   Here is a look at what all this means:

   WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE DEAL?

   Under a five-year agreement announced in November, Albania will shelter up 
to 36,000 migrants a year as Rome fast-tracks their asylum requests.

   Those picked up within Italy's territorial waters, or by rescue ships 
operated by non-governmental organizations, would retain their right under 
international and EU law to apply for asylum in Italy and have their claims 
processed there.

   Italy has agreed to take back any migrants whose requests have been 
rejected, and they will likely be repatriated. Children and pregnant women will 
not be covered by the plan.

   One of the processing centers will be located in the port of Shengjin, one 
of the main tourist areas on the Adriatic Sea, about 75 kilometers (46 miles) 
south of the Albanian capital, Tirana.

   The second facility will be 20 kilometers (12 miles) north at a former 
military airport in Gjader. Italy will spend nearly 600 million euros ($650 
million) over five years for the construction and operation of the two centers 
under Italian jurisdiction. Up to 3,000 migrants at a time can stay at the two 
facilities. Outside security will be provided by Albanian guards.

   The facilities are expected to be operational by spring.

   WHAT DOES ITALY GET?

   The deal could help relieve chronic overcrowding at initial asylum 
processing centers in Italy, where hundreds of thousands of migrants are held 
after risky sea voyages across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, Tunisia, 
Turkey and other countries.

   Italy has sought more help from its fellow EU nations.

   Many of the migrants are ineligible for asylum as they leave due to poverty, 
not persecution or war. While waiting for a final decision on their asylum 
applications, many make their way to northern Europe, hoping to find family or 
jobs.

   WHAT'S IN IT FOR ALBANIA?

   When the deal was announced, Meloni said Albania "behaves as if it's one" of 
the EU member states. Albania "is not only a friend of Italy, but also a friend 
of the European Union," she said.

   Many in Albania see it as quid pro quo for Italian hospitality when 
thousands of Albanians fleeing poverty after the fall of communism in 1991 
found refuge in Italy.

   Albania, a small west Balkan country, does not belong to the EU but is 
seeking membership, beginning talks with Brussels last year. Despite poverty, 
it has a history of accepting refugees, including members of China's Uyghur 
ethnic group, Afghans and dissidents from Iran, as well as taking a million 
ethnic Albanians from neighboring Kosovo during wartime in 1999.

   But members of Albania's center-right opposition opposed the deal on human 
rights grounds. Thirty opposition lawmakers went to the Constitutional Court in 
an unsuccessful bid to block ratification.

   WHAT ARE THE HUMANITARIAN AND LEGAL CONCERNS?

   Migration experts say the agreement follows a worrying trend of EU nations 
looking beyond the bloc's borders to manage migration. Denmark has floated the 
idea of sending asylum seekers to be held in African nations.

   The Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights has expressed a range 
of concerns, including whether migrants would have access to adequate legal aid.

   The European Commission, which supervises the application of EU laws, left 
the door open for the agreement, as long as it's only applied to migrants 
picked up in international waters.

   The Migration Policy Institute Europe says the deal fails to describe what 
migration procedures would be followed, leaving open questions as to how 
exactly the process would work.

 
 
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