By Ambra Visentin

The data collected and highlighted in the more than one-hour video investigation by Report, a programme of the public broadcaster RAI – with 12,000 employees, an annual budget of 2.5 billion euros and a market share of 36 per cent – paints a disastrous picture: the country is preparing to spend more than 800 million euros in a few years to ‘manage’ less than 3,000 migrants per year in two collection centres under construction in Albania.

The programme denounced mismanagement and waste on the part of the Italian government, and corruption and possible involvement of organised crime in the project on the Albanian side. The Albanian socialist prime minister, Edi Rama, did not like the programme so much that he called RAI’s deputy news director, Paolo Corsini, to complain. Prime Minister Meloni then asked the broadcaster to apologise for the allegedly defamatory portrayal of a ‘friendly country’.

The Rome-Tirana Protocol

But what exactly does the agreement, signed in November 2023 and finally approved on 15 February 2024, consist of? At the signing of the treaty with the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Meloni explained: “The agreement consists in the fact that Albania will allow Italy to use some areas on Albanian territory where Italy will be able to build, at its own expense and under its own jurisdiction, two facilities where centres for the management of illegal migrants can be set up.

Migrants attempting to reach Italy, if intercepted in international waters by the Italian Navy or Coast Guard, could be diverted to the far north of Albania, a few kilometres from the border with Montenegro, instead of being taken to the nearest port in Italy. The disembarkation will take place in the port of Shëngjin, where the Italian hotspot will be located: a centre for the initial reception and sorting of migrants. After initial identification, they would then be taken 20 kilometres further north, to Gjadër, to a 70,000 square metre reception centre surrounded by mountains.

Those who would actually be received in these centres would already be defined in an initial selection on the ship at sea. Only ‘non-vulnerable’ adult males from countries with which Italy has bilateral agreements (and therefore willing to accept their citizens) would be diverted to Albania. According to the protocol, the facilities will be able to accommodate a maximum of 3,000 migrants at a time. However, the Italian Prime Minister is relying on the accelerated procedures introduced by the ‘Cutro decree’, which will allow asylum applications to be processed in 28 days, thus allowing for ‘a total annual flow of up to 36,000 people’.

Where is the hook?

According to the journalistic investigation, the protocol has several critical points, starting with the actual number of applications that can be processed. In fact, the report points out, the accelerated procedures never really got off the ground after the rulings of the Italian courts that effectively blocked the Cutro decree. It now takes an average of two and a half years for the government to respond to an asylum application.

In addition, the call for tenders to run the two centres says they can accommodate 1024 persons. This would mean a maximum of 11,000 people per year. The latter figure is further reduced if we consider the amount earmarked for managing the migrants in the hotspot, 34 million, which, according to the Ministry’s tables on the daily expenditure earmarked for each migrant, brings us to 2822 migrants. Considering that 150,000 migrants will land in Italy in 2023 alone, the report reiterates, only 2% of the total would be temporarily accommodated in the Albanian centres. The TV programme also refers to a “forced cruise in the Mediterranean” for the migrants who will be diverted to Albania, as the plan is for them to be transferred to Italy at some point for their cases to be further examined.

Then there is the question of spending. The estimated total cost of €650 million over five years has already risen to over €800 million. This comes partly from having to cut back on key ministries: 54.7 million will be taken from the Ministry of Infrastructure, 2.5 million from University and Research, 9.3 million from Education and 1.8 million from Health. The final expenditure, which was supposed to be completed by the end of May but which an update of the timetable would postpone until November, will be revised after the actual completion of the work.

Lastly, there is the question of reimbursing the Albanian government for the costs of providing security outside the centres in Albania and urbanising these areas, which cost a total of 100 million euros over five years. Finally, the report points out that in the event of a change of government in Albania, Italy could lose the right to use the centres it has built, since they have been given on loan.

The issue of trust and complaints to the “narco-state”.

The data presented against the ‘Meloni model’ would therefore be different. But what provoked a strong reaction from the Italian and Albanian prime ministers was the question of mutual trust, which did not really exist, and the accusations against Albanian politicians, who were allegedly highly corrupt and involved in international drug trafficking.
In fact, Tirana asked for a second fund to guarantee future Italian payments, which would hold money that Rome could no longer withdraw. For its part, Italy runs the risk of investing in centres it has built, but which may no longer be ‘its’ in five years’ time. As early as 2002, the Italian government built a prison in Albania that was later used exclusively by the Albanian government.

Cover image by Alessio Tricani on Shutterstock