Interview. ‘If the agreement will actually be operational, it will have wider implications. Rome's model could be adopted by other EU countries eager to crack down on illegal immigration.’

Satvinder Juss: The Italy-Albania detention model was already rejected in the UK

Migrants would be subject to the risk of mistreatment, with the possibility of human rights violations, and the model could set a dangerous precedent. The proposed agreement between Italy and Albania to build two holding and repatriation centers (CPRs) in the country ruled by Edi Rama seems to be on the edge of collapse. Or, at least, that is the view of Satvinder Juss, professor of law at King’s College in London and a lawyer at Gray’s Inn, a leading expert on migration policy.

Juss spoke last Monday in Rome before the combined Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the agreement signed by Edi Rama and Giorgia Meloni on November 6 that provides for the construction of two facilities, operational from spring 2024, with a maximum capacity of 3,000, to receive and examine the asylum requests of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by ships belonging to the Italian authorities.

This agreement has already been rejected by the Albanian Constitutional Court, and the British expert gave a negative assessment on it at the hearing.

What do you think of the agreement between Italy and Albania on migrant centers?

If the agreement will actually be operational, it will have wider implications. Rome’s model could be adopted by other EU countries eager to crack down on illegal immigration. However, applications are unlikely to be processed quickly within just 28 days. It’s implausible that asylum seekers can be readily sent back to their countries of origin, and I think it’s unlikely that the two reception centers will be operational by early 2024, not to mention being able to operate under Italian jurisdiction. Equally unfeasible is the prospect that as many as 40,000 refugees per year will be housed there and that Italy’s expenses won’t balloon by paying many millions more to the Albanian state.

But it is an even graver matter that Italy is a signatory to an international treaty, the Refugee Convention, and has a duty not to return them to a place where they might be at risk. Italy should take note of what happened in the United Kingdom in November 2023. The Italian protocol is similar to the agreement with Rwanda that Britain signed in October 2022. But in November 2023, the U.K. Supreme Court held that it was inapplicable since it involved a country that did not respect refugees.

As recent inquiries have shown, most recently at the Potenza center, CPRs look almost like prisons. Would they be like that in Albania as well?

Assuming they are built, the answer is yes. That is because Albania will use military barracks for the two centers on its southern border. It hopes these can be used as housing, but all evidence shows that the facilities are understaffed and under-resourced. And this despite Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani’s assertion that detainees in Albania would not be at risk of human rights violations because their detention and treatment would fall entirely under Italian jurisdiction. The EU right of asylum cannot be applied outside the Union. As a result, they will be at risk of mistreatment.

What do you think about the measures taken by the Meloni government on the migration phenomenon?

It is largely “performative politics.” It is designed to appeal to populist sentiments. The agreement with Albania won’t work because Albanian Prime Minister Rama has already said that his country is not in favor of being a dumping ground for the EU’s migrants. Albania is itself a refugee-producing country, with the highest number of children in this situation. It is a nation facing a proliferation of cases of persecution due to blood feuds, expression of sexual orientation and gender identity, domestic violence against women and actions of non-state actors. And the existing agreement with Greece isn’t working either, because the repatriation facility is empty. Moreover, the terms of the negotiations with Italy are not clear.

The European elections are approaching. Will the issue of immigration be central?

Yes, because the foreign-born population in the West is increasing faster than ever. The affluent world is witnessing an unprecedented migration boom. People are on the move. This is not only because of conditions in the poorer part of the world, but also because of the West’s need to find foreign workers. European countries are facing elections in 2024, and the rise of right-wing parties is turning immigration into a central issue for them. The relocation of asylum seekers outside national borders is increasingly seen as a policy to be pursued.

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