“In addition to the externalisation of borders, the increasingly distant ports for NGO ships carrying out search and rescue activities, the tightening of special protection, the accelerated border procedures, and the reduction of protection even for unaccompanied children, migrants will find other obstacles on their way to Europe, as a result of the very recent Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Albania,” the NGO EMERGENCY comments on the agreement signed on 6 November by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni.
The agreement revolves around the transfer of migrants rescued at sea by Italian Coast Guard or Guardia di Finanza (Financial Police) ships, or in any case under the jurisdiction of the Italian authorities, to a country – Albania – that is not part of the European Union and is therefore not bound to respect EU human rights criteria.
“This is a way to prevent migrants from setting foot on Italian, and therefore European, soil and requesting asylum as envisaged by both European and international law. This is yet another attack on the right to seek asylum, as well as an attack on Article 10 of the Italian Constitution,” the NGO stresses.
Even if the text specifies that the agreement intends to operate in accordance with Italian, European and international law, the 36,000 migrants who may be detained in Albania each year will hardly be able to exercise their right to be interviewed by the Italian authorities responsible for asylum applications. Likewise, the right to appeal in the event of a denied claim will remain only theoretical: the facilities provided by the agreement will be closed off and risk appearing illegitimate, because detention should be allowed only as a last resort and with a judge’s order. Even if on paper the agreement allows for access to lawyers, international organisations and European agencies that provide assistance to applicants for international protection, it is practically impossible for these rights to be respected, EMERGENCY further highlights.
There is no reference in the text to the announced exclusion of vulnerable persons from the measure, which for EMERGENCY raises many doubts about its actual application. At the operational level, would selective disembarkations be made to bring women and children to Italy and then take the others to Albania? Who would assess who is vulnerable and who is not, and based on what criteria?
“All people rescued should be able to reach a safe place as quickly as possible because being in distress at sea takes precedence over their status as migrants,” the organisation states. “All should be considered vulnerable and receive dignified treatment and adequate protection in accordance with international and EU law.”
Italy would also commit to ‘remove’ migrants who have exceeded the time limit in the dedicated facilities in Albania, but at the moment this does not happen even in the case of migrants detained in Italy due to the lack of bilateral agreements for repatriation.
Beyond the strictly legal and practical objections, we at EMERGENCY find the logic behind the agreement unacceptable.
“Border externalisation policies have already proven to be a failure and counterproductive for the protection of people on the move, but they have had an effect: they have encouraged human trafficking and made the routes and crossings more dangerous, with more than 20,000 deaths in the Mediterranean since 2014,” the NGO concludes.