Italian MPs approve contested Albanian migrant dealWed, 24 Jan 2024 13:37:29 GMT

Italian MPs on Wednesday approved a controversial migrant deal under which asylum seekers rescued at sea would be held in two migrant centres in Albania.The decision comes despite a legal challenge in Albania against the accord, struck by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right government in November.Italy’s lower chamber of parliament backed the protocol by 155 votes to 115, with two abstentions. The text now goes to the Senate, where it is also expected to be approved.Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, came to office in late 2022 promising to stop the migrant boats arriving on Italy’s shores from North Africa. In fact, numbers have risen from around 105,000 migrant landings in 2022 to almost 158,000 in 2023, official figures show.Under the November deal, Albania agreed to host two centres for asylum seekers rescued at sea by the Italian coastguard, to hold a maximum of 3,000 people at any one time while they await a decision on their claims. Everything would be paid for and managed by Italian authorities.But the agreement with Albania — which unlike Italy, is not part of the European Union — has sparked widespread criticism from rights groups and opposition politicians in both countries.Amnesty International warned this week that the deal could breach Italy’s obligations under international law, and harm migrants’ rights.”This unworkable, harmful and unlawful proposal would see people in distress subjected to long and unnecessary transfers by sea and ending up in automatic and potentially prolonged detention, in violation of international law,” said Amnesty researcher Matteo de Bellis.  – ‘Solidarity’ -During the parliamentary debate, opposition MPs accused Meloni of using migrants as “electoral propaganda”, saying the project would have little impact on numbers and was hugely costly. They estimated the cost at more than 650 million euros over the five-year term of the accord.However, the European Union has expressed interest in the agreement, rebuffing concerns about human rights in Albania by pointing out that the centres will be covered by Italian law.Meloni has said that minors, pregnant women and “vulnerable people” will not be sent to the centres, although Amnesty pointed out these exemptions did not appear in the text of the Italian law ratifying the accord.The text does specify that only those rescued by Italian authorities in non-EU waters would be taken there.The deal allows for two centres to be established near the port of Shengjin, where migrants would register for asylum, as well as a facility in the same region to house those awaiting a response to their applications.In Albania, opposition parties warned the deal went against international standards on migrant rights while also citing it was “dangerous” for national security.Albania’s Constitutional Court began reviewing the case last week following a legal challenge, with a decision due by March 6.