Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s recent claim that Albania would be prepared to accept illegal immigrants expelled by EU Member States was put to the test as both Italy and Malta refused to accept over 600 migrants.
In a visit to Austria in May, Rama offered to assist the EU with its growing immigration problems by supporting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s suggestion of establishing several large campsites outside of the EU to shelter expelled immigrants. A proposal supported, in principle, by Germany, the Netherlands and Demark.
In a joint press conference with Kurz, Rama announced;
“…we are ready to offer all our capacities to ensure border safety on the one hand and a dignified treatment of human beings on the other…”
The non-EU member countries to host the aforementioned camps are most likely to be Western Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Albania has the lowest number of registered migrants in this region.
Rama had the golden opportunity to put his words into action with both Italy and Malta refusing to accept a rescue-boat of over 600 migrants from Africa this month (June 11th). However a lack of action on his part resulted in Spain offering to accept the migrants who were left stranded in the Mediterranean.
Italy’s new interior minister and leader of the right-wing party Lega Nord, Matteo Salvini, refused the rescue ship ‘Aquarius’ permission to dock, leaving it stranded some 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.
Salvini said that Malta should accept the Aquarius but the Maltese refused, arguing it fell under Italy’s jurisdiction.
Due to Italy’s proximity to Northern Africa, Sicily is often the first port of call for migrants, with roughly 120,000 arriving by sea in 2017 – double the number in Greece and Spain combined. With Salvini’s party being strongly anti-immigration and Italy’s new populist government promising to take a tough stance on migration, it is likely that this will be the first of many immigration related feuds.
For Rama, his hesitation in offering to assist the Aquarius could damage his credibility among his supporters and allies. With Spain already taking in substantial numbers of migrants and refugees annually, this incident was an opportunity for Albania to take the initiative and prove to the EU that they would be a worthy addition to the union.
Whether or not Edi Rama makes good on his word remains to be seen.