- Albania’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday blocked the ratification of a deal with Italy that would establish a joint-processing system for migrant arrivals.
- The controversial deal calls for Tirana to hold up to 36,000 migrants for a year, so Rome can expedite its processing of asylum requests.
- The deal has drawn criticism from rights groups and opposition politicians in both Italy and Albania.
Albania’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday blocked, at least temporarily, the ratification by lawmakers of a contentious deal that Tirana signed with Rome to process asylum applications of some migrants arriving in Italy by sea in Albania instead.
The court’s chief judge, Olta Zacaj, said the court would hold a public hearing on Jan. 18 to determine whether the agreement violates Albania’s constitution.
The decision means the Parliament will not vote on whether to ratify the deal, a session that had been planned for Thursday. It was not immediately clear when — presumably after the January debate — the lawmakers could vote.
The court’s decision followed a petition from the opposition, which has argued that the agreement runs counter to Albania’s constitution and international law.
Under the five-year deal announced in November, Albania was to shelter up to 36,000 migrants for a year, or about 3,000 a month, trying to reach Italy without proper documentation, mostly in dangerous sea voyages. Albania would house the migrants at two facilities while Italy fast-tracks their asylum requests.
The processing centers — one in the port of Shengjin, a main tourist spot on the Adriatic Sea, and the other near a former military airport at Gjader in northern Albania — were to be run by Italian officials, with Albanian guards providing security around the centers. Italy has committed to pay for the construction and operation of the two centers under Italian jurisdiction.
The opposition argues that housing migrants that way would deny them “any right the Albanian Constitution offers individuals.”
The 140-seat Parliament, where Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s governing Socialists have 74 seats, had been expected to ratify the government’s draft law despite objections from the opposition and local and international rights activists.
In November, when Rama and his Italian counterpart announced the deal, Premier Giorgia Meloni had said she expects the centers to become operational next spring.
Italy turned to Albania after failing to secure more help from fellow European Union nations to handle the increasing number of migrant arrivals. By mid-December, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by boat had nearly doubled to 153,000, compared to the same period a year ago.
The backlog of asylum applications in Italy currently stands at 82,000.
The deal has been criticized by rights organizations and other groups, along with Italy’s left-wing opposition parties.