Italy “gazumped” Britain when it struck a deal with Albania to process asylum applications, a source has claimed. London had proposed an agreement with Tirana earlier this year by which the Baltic state would handle applications from migrants who cross the English Channel.
The plan stalled when the British Embassy in Albania and UK Foreign Office advised the Government it was a “red line” for the Albanians, the Telegraph reports.
But the British Government was taken by surprise when Italy announced its own deal with Albania. A source said: “The Foreign Office was surprised when it happened, albeit Italy has an exceptional relationship with Albania for historic reasons.”
Another claimed the UK had been “gazumped”, adding: “It was a real snub and set back alternative plans, because talks with other countries had been put on the back burner.”
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As part of the agreement between Italy and Albania, sea migrant reception centres were to be built in Albania to house migrants who attempt to land on Italian shores. The expectation was that some 36,000 asylum seekers would be processed in Albania.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama signed off on the deal in early November. Albania’s parliament was due to ratify the pact on December 14 but that was suspended after a constitutional court agreed to review its constitutionality.
London held talks with Tirana in 2021 to offshore migrants, but the negotiations collapsed when reports of the proposal emerged in the UK. Albanian ambassador to Britain, Qirjako Qirko, said at the time his government would never agree to open processing centres for illegal immigrants.
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In meetings with Ms Meloni and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Rome at the weekend, Mr Rama said several other European countries had requested deals which would allow them to send migrants to Albania for processing.
Mr Rama said Tirana told them the answer was no, explaining Italy was a special case due to the close historical and cultural ties between the two countries.
He added: “It’s always an honour to help when Italy asks us to lend a hand and it’s a privilege to be considered Italy’s special friend.”
Downing Street said after the talks Mr Sunak and Ms Meloni agreed to co-fund a project which would see the UK and Italy “promote and assist the voluntary return” of migrants currently stuck in Tunisia. Tunisia attracts many migrants from several African countries who begin their journey to Europe from there.
In a speech to the Atreju event organised by Ms Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, Mr Sunak said radical solutions, such as his Rwanda plan, were needed to protect countries’ borders
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But Mr Sunak’s Rwanda plan has hit a number of legal and political hurdles, with hardliners on the right of the Conservative Party pushing Mr Sunak to block “interference” from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Refugee Convention.
Britain’s Prime Minister comfortably won a crunch Commons vote on legislation designed to insulate the Rwanda scheme from legal challenges.
Stopping small boat crossings in the Channel is one of Mr Sunak’s main priorities. Home Secretary James Cleverly told MPs at the end of November more countries have been lined up to follow Rwanda in taking asylum seekers from Britain should the scheme be implemented.
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