In 2018, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said his country would never allow European Union refugee camps to be built on its territory. Rama felt that this would amount to “throwing desperate people somewhere like toxic waste that no one wants.” The Prime Minister was categorical. In a interview with the Picture Writing in a German tabloid, he called the idea “dangerous” and said it would “turn Albania into a breakwater for European refugees.”
Five years later, Rama made a about-face. Albania is now set to become the first third country to process people arriving at its borders on behalf of an EU member state.
Human rights concerns
On November 6, the Albanian Prime Minister signed an agreement with his far-right Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni, which will allow Italy to send up to 36,000 people rescued in the Mediterranean to centers on Albania’s northwest coast. Women, children and people considered “vulnerable” would be exempt and treated in Italy. Male-only establishments in Albania will fall under Italian jurisdiction and will be entirely financed by Rome.
Two installations are planned, with different objectives. The peaceful Albanian port town of Shengjin will host a reception and control center, while a detention center will be built at an abandoned military base in Gjader. Italian government press service said these facilities would “speed up the processing of asylum applications (and) possible repatriation.” The announcement caused an outcry in various circles in Albania and Italy. Two Italian politicians compared with the centers planned at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, where the United States has been holding suspected Islamist “terrorists” indefinitely since the aftermath of “September 11.”
Segregation of adult males could amount to family separation, a policy heavily criticized by human rights groups, which could even amount to a violation of international law.
THE critics say that the project will allow Italy to circumvent the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which determines the member state responsible for evaluating an application for international protection. According to the convention, the first country in which an asylum seeker arrives is responsible for processing their file. The plan raised other concernsalso: segregation of adult males could amount to family separation, a policy heavily criticized by human rights groups, which could even constitute a violation of international law.
A similar proposal in the UK has reportedly seen “illegal” asylum seekers, crossing the English Channel to Britain on small boats, deported to Rwanda for processing and possible resettlement. Under parliamentary scrutiny last year, the now-dismissed Interior Minister, Suella Braverman, was incapable tell an MP how these asylum seekers could legally arrive in the country.
On November 15, the “Rwandan project” itself was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The court unanimously ruled that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would face “a real risk of ill-treatment” if deported to the war-ravaged countries they had fled. Since its announcement in April 2022, the project has caused much controversy in Britain. In June last year, the first scheduled flight to Rwanda was canceled shortly before takeoff, after a last-minute incident. decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In response, there has been intense discussion within the political right about the possibility of the UK leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, to which all 46 members of the Council of Europe have signed up. . leave it along with Russia and Belarus. The Supreme Court, however, relied on numerous international treaties ratified by the United Kingdom, as well as the domestic laws which give effect to them.
Doing the West’s dirty work
At the heart of these plans for Rwanda and Albania is the idea that maritime salvage and offshore processing would deter those planning to cross the Mediterranean and the English Channel. But some experts say the opposite: Australia’s opening of offshore processing centers in 2012 was followed by a increase the number of irregular boat crossings.
The Albanian plan has also been criticized for its lack of transparency. There was no public debate or political consultation before Rama-Meloni’s announcement. Rama reportedly agreed to the relocation plan after welcoming Meloni to Albania in mid-August. “Giorgia spoke to me about it before the summer; then we talked on August 15, when she arrived in Albania,” he said said. “We received other requests from different countries, but we couldn’t say no to Italy.” This is part of a trend where the prime minister makes unilateral decisions, outside of any national security framework or public deliberation.
In the spring of 1997, Albania itself faced massive domestic unrest, with the failure of a pyramid scheme precipitating a refugee crisis.
Indeed, this is not the first time that the Albanian government has accepted what the West does not want. In 2013, the US administration managed to convince Albania to accept moving from Iraq of some 2,800 members of a violent Iranian opposition sect, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (PMOI).
The PMOI agreed not to participate in any political activities during his stay in Albania. But he has broken that promise, primarily through online propaganda and cyberattacks against the Iranian regime, provoking crippling cyberattacks in return. Rama then acted unilaterally too, to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran and giving Tehran diplomats just 24 hours to leave Tirana.
About 17 years ago, Albania accepted former Guantanamo detainees. More recently, as the United States withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban returned to power, Albania took over. hundreds of Afghan refugees. Most were transferred to Shengjin, headquarters of the reception and screening center run by the Italians.
Some Albanians expressed support for the plan with Italy in terms of recent history. Albania took in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Kosovo during the 1998-99 war, as Kosovo Albanians fled “ethnic cleansing” pursued by then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević. In the spring of 1997, Albania itself faced massive internal unrest, the failure of a pyramid scheme precipitating a refugee crisis: in less than a week, 10,619 The Albanians crossed the Adriatic to the Italian city of Puglia.
Balkan states like Albania continue to be treated by the EU as “other” and backward.
Some Albanians saw the acceptance of Italy’s unwanted arrivals in these terms, as a show of gratitude, a demonstration of national character and – as an EU candidate country – a reflection of the “European values” of solidarity . But this raises the question: how could offshore processing of asylum seekers manifest the “European values” of a member state like Italy?
Behind the pretty rhetoric of solidarity and mutuality hides a less flattering image. Balkan states like Albania continue to be treated by the EU as “other” and backward. The EU extracts their best and brightest young people, as well as their cheap labor. This leaves poor and corrupt states, led by compromised and therefore easily manipulated leaders, ready to do anything to increase their power and prestige on the world stage.
Brussels thus benefits from the retention of EU candidate countries such as Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. out the Union, where they serve as migrant warehouses and labor plantations, while European asylum and labor laws do not apply. According to the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said last week, regarding Italy’s relocation plan, “EU law is not applicable outside EU territory.”
This is a joint publication of Social Europe And IPS Journal.