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Italy's migrant deal with Albania 'must respect international law': UN

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Italy's migrant deal with Albania 'must respect international law': UN
Italy's Giorgia Meloni and Albania's Edi Rama after signing a deal on November 6, 2023. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Italy's plan to send migrants to Albania for processing risks violating international law, the UN warned on Tuesday.

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The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday international law must be respected in a deal between Italy and Albania for migrants rescued at sea to be sent temporarily to the Balkan country for processing.

Tens of thousands of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean will be sent to purpose-built centres in Albania while Italy examines their asylum requests, the Rome government has said.

READ ALSO: Italy to send migrants to reception centres in Albania

Two structures able to accommodate up to 3,000 people at a time will be set up for "speedy processing of asylum applications or possible repatriation", it added.

The deal with Albania, which is not part of the European Union, was announced on Monday following a meeting in Rome between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

"Transfer arrangements of asylum-seekers and refugees must respect international refugee law," UNHCR said in a statement Tuesday.

It added that it "was not informed about or consulted on the contents of the agreement or its details".

READ ALSO: What’s behind Italy’s soaring number of migrant arrivals?

The centres, which Meloni said were expected to be up and running by spring 2024, will be built at Italy's expense at the port of Shengjin and the Gjader area in northwest Albania.

A reception center for migrants on the island of Lampedusa, Sicily, on September 25th, 2023.

A reception center for migrants on the island of Lampedusa, Sicily, on September 25th, 2023. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

They will be designed to accommodate some 39,000 people a year, according to Meloni's office.

Minors, pregnant women and "vulnerable people" will not be sent to the centres, Meloni told reporters Monday.

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"UNHCR's longstanding position is that returns or transfers to safe third countries may only be considered appropriate if certain standards are met," the refugee agency said.

It voiced particular concern that "those countries fully respect the rights arising from the Refugee Convention and human rights obligations, and if the agreement helps share the responsibility for refugees equitably among nations, rather than shifting it."

International refugee law stipulates that the primary responsibility for protecting asylum-seekers and processing claims lies with the state where an asylum-seeker arrives, UNHCR said.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni blasts judge who rejected 'unconstitutional' anti-migrant law

It added that the transfer of asylum-seekers or "extraterritorial processing" did not change this.

A member of the Italian government clarified Tuesday that migrants would be taken directly to Albania, without passing through Italy, and that Rome would have legal jurisdiction over the centres.

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But many questions remain over the functioning of the project.

Despite Meloni's vow to stop boat crossings from North Africa to Italy, over 145,000 people have landed on its shores so far this year, compared to 88,000 in the same period last year, official data shows.

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