Italy’s plan to send tens of thousands of migrants and refugees to Albania does not breach European Union law, officials in Brussels have ruled.
Albania is not an EU state and so its rules on asylum seekers do not apply to the Balkan nation, said the bloc’s most senior official on migration.
Ylva Johansson, EU migration commissioner, said: “The preliminary assessment by our legal service is that this is not violating EU law, it’s outside EU law. EU law is not applicable outside EU territory.”
Ms Johansson’s remarks imply that the scheme announced last week by Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, and Edi Rama, her Albanian counterpart, could not be challenged before the EU Court of Justice.
Under the accord, the Italians have been given permission to build two migrant centres in northern Albania.
Migrants transferred to holding facility
Migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in boats from North Africa will be intercepted by the Italian navy or coastguard and brought to the port of Shengjin, a holiday resort where the Italians will build a reception centre.
They will then be transferred inland to a large holding facility built on an old Albanian air force base next to the village of Gjader.
About 3,000 a month will be processed. If their asylum applications are rejected, they will be repatriated to their home countries.
The Meloni government hopes the system will be able to handle about 36,000 migrants a year.
The Italy-Albania plan has been criticised by human rights groups as well as opposition parties in both countries.
The two migrant facilities, which are due to open in the spring, will operate under Italian jurisdiction with Italian personnel.
So far this year, more than 147,000 migrants have arrived in Italy and the Meloni government is desperate to make good on electoral promises to stop the boats and get on top of the situation.
The Albania plan could act as a deterrent to prospective migrants, foiling their hopes of reaching the EU.
On Wednesday, Albania’s government put forth a draft law on the five-year deal with Italy.
It will be debated and voted on in the 140-seat parliament, where Mr Rama’s governing Socialists have 74 seats. It is not clear when the vote will be held.
As Italy struggles to handle the huge number of migrant arrivals, another 1,400 reached the tiny southern island of Lampedusa in 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The migrant reception centre on the island is frequently overcrowded, with migrants sleeping on the ground and in scrubland outside its perimeter fence.