Italy’s Albanian migrant centre to open up in August, Meloni says

By Thomson Reuters Jun 5, 2024 | 11:39 AM

SHENGJIN, Albania (Reuters) – Italy’s contested migrant reception centre being built in Albania will be operational from August, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Wednesday, presenting the “tool of deterrence” during a visit to the Balkan country.

Looking to curb migration to Italy, Meloni signed a deal with Albania last year to send thousands of asylum-seekers there to have their requests processed in two purpose-built centres to be run by Italian authorities.

The plan was supposed to come into force this month, but building work has been delayed and the centres are expected to be operational by Aug. 1 2024.

“A goal like this is well worth a two-month delay,” Meloni told reporters, adding that “the agreement could be replicated in many countries and become part of the EU’s structural solution” to the migration crisis.

Fifteen European Union countries wrote to the EU Commission last month asking it to find new ways to transfer migrants to non-EU countries more easily, mentioning the agreement between Italy and Albania as an example.

“The most useful element of this project is that it can represent an extraordinary tool of deterrence for illegal migrants destined to reach Europe,” Meloni said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, speaking alongside Meloni, rejected media suggestions that the centres could be vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime and reiterated his wholehearted support for the project.

“Italy helped Albania many times and if we have the chance to be useful to Italy once then we will take this opportunity and do it from the heart,” he said.

The two leaders met in the northern Albanian port of Shengjin, where the first reception centre has already been completed.

It will be used to identify migrants rescued by Italian ships in international waters and will offer them the first opportunity to formalise their request for international protection.

“No vulnerable people, namely minors, women, older and frail individuals, will be brought to Albania,” Meloni said.

The second facility, still under construction, is in inland Gjader.

The two facilities, which initially will host around one thousand immigrants, are due to reach 3,000 places at full capacity, according to the bilateral agreement.

Meloni estimated that the funds needed to implement the accord will amount to 670 million euros ($727.22 million) over five years, roughly the same amount as Italy would have spent to process the migrants asylum claims at home.

($1 = 0.9213 euros)

(Reporting by Matteo Negri, editing by Gavin Jones)