Italy says migrant pact with Albania isn’t comparable to UK-Rwanda plan

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) -An Italian plan to build migrant camps in Albania cannot be compared to Britain’s bid to send irregular asylum seekers to Rwanda, Italy’s foreign minister said on Tuesday, adding the way requests would be handled would fully protect refugees’ rights.

Earlier this month, the right-wing government led by Giorgia Meloni announced the plan, as its latest effort to deter surging migrant departures from Africa and ease pressure on centres across the country.

Italy will build two reception and detention camps in Albania which will host a maximum of 3,000 migrants at any one time, marking the first ever deal involving a non-EU country accepting migrants on behalf of a member nation.

In 2016 the EU struck a deal with Turkey to prevent people heading for the bloc irregularly.

“Migrants will be treated according to Italian and European standards,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told a session of the lower house of parliament dedicated to the deal, which sparked criticism among the leftist opposition and human right groups.

“This Protocol is not comparable to the agreement between the United Kingdom and Rwanda,” Tajani said referring to the British initiative, which UK’s top judges have declared unlawful.

Tajani told lawmakers only migrants who have no right to stay in Italy would go to Albania after the coastguard or the navy picked them up in international waters and confirmed no children or pregnant women would be hosted there. He said those awaiting repatriation could be held for up to 18 months.

The protocol, seen by Reuters, says the camps will operate under Italian jurisdiction, and should open in spring 2024.

Tajani told lawmakers Italy would bear all the costs, including building and policing the centres, and would pay 16.5 million euros ($18.00 million) for the initial expenses.

Opposition lawmakers have been urging Meloni to seek parliament approval for the deal negotiated with her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama, after the government said it was not strictly needed based on Italian law.

However, Tajani – the successor of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi at the helm of the coalition Forza Italia party – said the administration would present a law bill to formally ratify the pact with Albania.

“We hope it can be approved in a time frame that is consistent with the urgency of tackling the management of growing migration flows,” he said.

Some 150,000 sea migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, compared to around 94,000 in the same period in 2022.

($1 = 0.9168 euros)

(Reporting by Angelo AmanteEditing by Alexandra Hudson)