Meloni Says Controversial Albania Migrant Plan to Move Forward

(Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said a controversial plan to divert incoming migrants to Albania would move forward this summer as she defended a project that’s become central to her European election campaign.

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Two hubs to be built in Albania but run by Italian authorities will be able to process at least 1,000 asylum seekers from Aug. 1, with capacity set to triple after that, the Italian leader said during a trip to the Balkan nation Wednesday.

Meloni reinforced her message that the arrangement, which has been beset by delays and criticism from human-rights groups and opposition figures, could be an example for others.

“The project can serve as a huge deterrent for illegal migrants and to stem human trafficking,” Meloni told reporters in Shengjin on the country’s northwest coast alongside her Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama.

The Italian leader has made restrictions on immigration one of her main themes ahead of the European Parliament election on Sunday. The deal with Albania to process migrants bound for Italy has been slammed by opposition groups as political posturing and rife for potential inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum in Europe.

The project, which had been set to start in May, also faced a court challenge in Albania by critics who called it a violation of the Balkan nation’s sovereignty.

And while Meloni’s Albania initiative has drawn interest from 15 European Union member states, Rama has sought to make clear that the deal is a one-off with a key partner. Meloni reiterated Rome’s support for Albania’s accession to the 27-member bloc.

Meloni, well on the political right, and Rama, chairman of Albania’s Socialist party, sought to dispel speculation about friction between the two. Rama had denied a report in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, which said the Albanian leader had called the project a “flop.”

He also pushed back against broader criticism against the processing hubs.

“A center like this can be found in any EU country — it is considered normal. Here, it is considered Guantanamo, a concentration camp — but why?” Rama said, referring to the US naval base in Cuba that holds prisoners deemed enemy combatants.

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