Italy-Albania migrants deal does not breach EU law, Brussels says

ROME (Reuters) – A deal allowing Italy to build reception camps in Albania for thousands of sea migrants does not breach European Union law which is not applicable in this instance, the bloc’s top migration official said on Wednesday.

The scheme, announced last week, has drawn criticism from human rights groups and evoked comparisons with the British government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, judged illegal by Britain’s Supreme Court.

“The preliminary assessment by our legal service is that this is not violating EU law, it’s outside EU law,” EU migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson said about the Italy-Albania agreement in a press conference in Brussels.

Her remarks suggested that the scheme could not be challenged before the EU Court of Justice.

Italy is planning to open two facilities in Albania next spring, one to screen migrants on arrival and a second to detain them while asylum applications are processed, and hopes they could process as many as 3,000 cases per month.

The camps are due to operate under Italian jurisdiction, with Italian staff, but on Albanian territory. It is unclear how it would work in practice, since there is no precedent for such an arrangement.

Johansson said “EU law is not applicable outside EU territory, but Italian law is”, but she did not clarify how this squares with Italy’s obligations as a member of the EU.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Keith Weir)