Italy welcomed thousands of Albanians fleeing poverty after the fall of communism more than three decades ago, and the current Albanian government wants to reward Italian hospitality.
On Monday, Albania agreed to temporarily house thousands of migrants while Rome examines their requests for asylum in Italy. Albania would, it seems, take responsibility for expelling them if their refugee status was refused to them by the Italians.
Although the deal has already been criticized by human rights organizations and other groups, ordinary Albanians were divided over it.
Bib Lazri, 66, a resident of the village of Gjader in northern Albania, where one of the two accommodation centers is to be built, said he welcomed the decision given the historical links between the two country.
“All my children are abroad. They (Italians) have been welcoming us for 30 years now,” Lazri said. “It’s up to us to say a good word, keep it and show our open hearts.”
Poverty was widespread and basic goods, especially bread, were scarce. The Albanians considered Italy their “Western window”. Many Albanians settled in Italy, found work and raised families.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the five-year agreement in Rome on Monday alongside his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni. Rama expressed gratitude on behalf of the Albanians who found refuge in Italy and “escaped hell and imagined a better life.”
But for many other Albanians, confusion, even anger, is the main feeling sparked by this surprise announcement.
Italian authorities will take care of disembarkation and identification procedures for migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian coast guard. One of the centers where the processing will take place is 5,000 square meters (6,000 square yards) and is surrounded by a fence with barbed wire at the Albanian port of Shengjin.
The location is approximately 75 kilometers (46 miles) northwest of Tirana, the Albanian capital.
Albania will offer two facilities, starting with Shengjin Port, a major tourist site that has attracted nearly a million tourists to the surrounding region this year.
Many fear that the shelter will have a negative impact on the country. Albania has become a major tourist magnet this year, attracting more than 9 million tourists to its pristine coastline so far.
“A refugee camp in the port is not compatible with the government’s idea of elite European tourism,” said Arilda Lleshi, a 27-year-old human rights activist, speaking from Tirana.
Many people were outraged that “such an agreement, with broad social impact, was reached without broad social consultation,” Lleshi said. “It seems our prime minister is continually taking over to solve global problems in order to gain some international credit, without consulting people first.”
Those who are deported will be sent to Gjader, 20 kilometers north of the port of Shengjin, to a former military airport.
Italy will finance the construction of two centers that can accommodate up to 3,000 migrants at a time. Up to 36,000 migrants could be sent for processing to Albanian territory each year.
Albania would also provide external security for the two centers, which would be under Italian jurisdiction.
Under the agreement, if Italy rejects asylum requests, Albania will then expel the migrants. Children and pregnant women will be excluded from the plan. The agreement as presented so far also does not address how Albania would manage to deport migrants to their countries of origin while Italy is struggling to do so itself. even.
The head of the port where the migrants will be processed, Sander Marashi, supports the government’s agreement, saying the facility will not pose a problem for the normal operation of the port.
“Such an agreement shows that … the hospitality of Albanians is not limited to words but also to deeds,” Marashi said.
But some Albanians were surprised and did not quite understand what this agreement meant.
Rama also mentioned how Albanians welcomed ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to escape massacres carried out by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999. Albania also sheltered Jews and hid them from the Nazis during World War II.
Requests from The Associated Press to interview government officials at the central and local levels about the new deal with Italy were rejected.
The agreement must be approved by Parliament before entering into force. Albania’s political opposition asked the prime minister to report to parliament before the vote. A vote has not yet been scheduled.
The ruling Socialists in Rama have 74 seats in the 140-seat Parliament, so in theory the government should have no problem adopting it. But the agreement has caused such consternation among some sectors of the population that its adoption could become problematic.
Albert Rakipi of the Albanian Institute of International Studies called the deal “ridiculous,” “misleading and unsustainable” and “unreasonable.”
“None of the thousands of people who risk their lives to reach Europe dream of a future in which they are placed in camps in a small, poor country just outside” the borders of European Union countries, Rakipi said.
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