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Albania is expected to approve a deal with Italy to process thousands of migrants’ claims for asylum

Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s Parliament votes Thursday on a deal with Italy to hold thousands of migrants rescued in international waters by the Italian authorities while their asylum applications are processed.

Under the five-year deal, Albania would shelter up to 3,000 migrants at any one time. With asylum requests expected to take around a month to process, the number of asylum-seekers sent to Albania could reach up to 36,000 in a year.

Two processing centers will be set up in Albania at a cost to Italy of more than 600 million euros (about $650 million) over five years.

With Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s left-wing Socialist Party holding 74 of Parliament’s 140 seats, the deal is expected to pass. The president will also issue a decree as the final step of approval.

A group of 30 lawmakers attempted to block ratification by appealing to the Constitutional Court, but in late January the court said a deal could go ahead.

Italy’s lower chamber of parliament approved the deal in January, followed by the Senate earlier this month.

The agreement, signed in November between Rama and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, is part of Meloni’s efforts to share the burden of addressing migration with other European countries. It was endorsed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen but has been widely criticized by human rights groups.

The two facilities in Albania would be fully run by Italy while it fast-tracks their asylum requests. Meloni has said she expects them to become operational by the spring of 2024.

Italy would remain legally responsible for the migrants throughout the process. It would welcome them in should they be granted international protection or organize their deportation from Albania if refused.

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.

Rama has said that Albania stands beside Meloni in a sign of gratitude on behalf of Albanians who found refuge in Italy and “escaped hell and imagined a better life” following the collapse of communism in Albania in the 1990s.

Italy has sought more solidarity from fellow European Union nations to help it handle the increasing number of arrivals. The number of migrants arriving in Italy by boat had nearly doubled to about 160,000 compared to the same period a year ago.


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