Italy accelerates construction of migrant centers in Albania |  RTL News

Italy accelerates construction of migrant centers in Albania | RTL News

Italy is quickly establishing two migrant reception centers in Albania. Last year, Italian Prime Minister Meloni concluded agreements on this subject with the country. The plan is to transfer migrants recovered from the Mediterranean who have little chance of asylum to Albania to continue procedures there. For example, anyone who does not have the right will never set foot in Italy.

Shengjin Port is a hive of activity. One construction worker says he has never worked so hard before. “From seven in the morning until seven in the evening, and for what?” the Italian sighs.

A month ago there were only a few bulldozers. This reception site was set up in just a few weeks. A four-metre-high fence hides the barracks from view. Cameras monitor what is happening in the area. Visitors are not welcome.

Meter high fence

“Nice building,” says one of the fishermen working in the port. The new steel of the metre-high fence forms a stark contrast to the old ship scarred by years on which the man stands. Will the arrival of immigrants change anything? He ignores it.

“I know they will stay at the shelter,” he said. “There might be riots or fights from time to time. But we won’t notice much of that.” The owner of the hotel a little further away also expects a little inconvenience. “They only come here for a short time and then move on to the other shelter.”

Last year, Italian Prime Minister Meloni signed an agreement with Albanian President Rama regarding the construction of two reception centers. The agreement is valid for five years and Italy will pay for it out of its own pocket. It will generate hundreds of millions of euros for Albania.

The two centers provide space for three thousand asylum seekers. The intention is that their stay in Albania will be short. If after a quick procedure it turns out that they are entitled to a residence permit, they can still continue to Italy. If their application is rejected, they will in principle have to return to their country of origin. Italy believes this will allow a total of 36,000 immigration applications to be processed annually in Albania.

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prison

Shengjin residents were stunned by the news of the arrival of Italian migrant reception centres, a deal concluded in secret. But the fears and resistance that emerged a few months ago have been replaced by indifference. This may also play a role in the fact that many have now seen the rapidly taking shape complex, which looks more like a prison than a center for asylum seekers.

The woman who runs a small swimwear shop doesn’t worry much. “Just make them come.” She went inside and returned with the Italian flag, which she hung conspicuously next to the Albanian flag already hanging in front of her shop. She then kissed both flags to show that Italians were welcome here.

Image © RTL News
The building looks more like a prison than a reception center for asylum seekers.

Later this week, before the European elections, Meloni will visit Albania to see for herself how the work is progressing. “She wants to give a clear signal to her supporters before voters go to the polls that she is serious about reducing immigration,” says political reporter Roel Schreinmachers.

The rest of Europe is watching with interest to see if this approach works. If so, there are more countries willing to make these types of deals. It is also in line with the European goal of establishing centers on the periphery of Europe in the future where asylum applications are processed.

Human rights organizations criticize

It remains to be seen whether the Italian approach will truly work in Albania. Human rights organizations are strongly critical. According to Matteo De Bellis of Amnesty International, you cannot simply drag boat passengers here and there is a violation of migrants’ rights. He is also concerned about the show taking place partly on the high seas. “The ship is not a good place to conduct an initial inspection.”

Assistant Professor Salvo Nicolosi also wonders whether human rights will be respected in the centres: for example, will migrants have the right to a lawyer and will they be treated in the same way as they are in Italy? “These centers mainly serve a political purpose. This is also evident from the fact that how the whole procedure will proceed has not yet been determined in detail.”

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Nicolosi also fears that the positions will fill up in no time. According to him, the numbers used by the Italian government for transit are unrealistic. After all, it is often difficult to deport asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal remedies.

Critics also believe that in practice a maximum of 400 migrants could be returned each month, and that it is therefore unrealistic to process 36,000 asylum applications annually via the Albanian route. Often migrants do not cooperate or their country of origin does not want them to return.

The second reception camp, which the migrants will go to after the initial examination, will be at a former military site in the town of Gadir. Voyeurs are not welcome here either. From the hill next to the site you can see that construction has not yet begun. Only a large pile of concrete slabs indicates that something is going to happen here.

Preferably without prying eyes

Here too prying eyes are not appreciated. When a Dutch camera crew is spotted, a police patrol car quickly appears out of nowhere. The officers do not leave their car, but remain posted at the entrance to the camp, even though there is not much to do in this remote place.

That will likely change later this week, as Melonie is expected to give a look at both locations. Its immigration policy is approved by many Italians, but it also receives some criticism.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will visit Albania soon.Image © RTL News
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will visit Albania soon.

It doesn’t take long to find a cash note on Skanderbeg Square in the Albanian capital, Tirana. “A big shame,” says an Italian tourist who doesn’t want to waste any more words. She doesn’t want to spoil her vacation. “It’s really a political maneuver,” says an Italian man in his early 20s. “It’s not good for things to be this way.”

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“Many Italians are skeptical,” says another. “We don’t know how things will go. We don’t know how things will be inside. From the outside it looks very closed.” But he gives the project the benefit of the doubt. “Let’s see how it works.”

How does the migrant agreement between Italy and Albania work?

  • Every year, the Italian Coast Guard intercepts thousands of migrants trying to cross into Italy on rickety, often overcrowded boats. Not everyone has the right to asylum.
  • When reception centers in Albania are ready, Italy wants to receive deprived asylum seekers there.
  • Before migrants are brought to Albania, selection takes place on board the ship that took them from international waters. Those with little chance of asylum go to Albania. Meaning: men only. Women, children and the elderly go to Italy.
  • Together, the two centers have a capacity of up to 3,000 people per month. Everyone who enters Albania is determined – through a video interrogation with an immigration officer in Rome – whether he or she is truly a refugee.
  • It must then be determined whether the person qualifies for asylum or not within seven days. If the application is denied, the judge must rule on the appeal within 14 days.
  • The Italian government’s idea is to evaluate 3,000 people every month. An estimated 2,000 people will then be returned to their home countries, and 1,000 will receive a residence permit and continue on to Italy.
  • It should ease pressure on Lampedusa and discourage desperate asylum seekers from crossing in the first place.
Many migrants trying to reach the European Union are forcibly forced back across the border on the border between Bosnia and Croatia, an EU member state.

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