GENEVA (AFP) – The United Nations (UN) refugee agency (UNHCR) said 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.
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 Albania’s 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 on Tuesday.
It added that it “was not informed about or consulted on the contents of the agreement or its details”.
The centres, 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.
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 on Monday.