Italy's Upper Chamber Gives Final Ok To Deal With Albania To House Migrants During Asylum Process

FILE - Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, right, and Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, left, shake hands after the signing of a memorandum of understanding on migrant management centers during a meeting in Rome, Italy, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday Jan. 29, 2024 said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP, File)
FILE - Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, right, and Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, left, shake hands after the signing of a memorandum of understanding on migrant management centers during a meeting in Rome, Italy, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday Jan. 29, 2024 said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP, File)

ROME (AP) — The Italian Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a controversial agreement with Albania to house migrants during the processing of their asylum requests, part of the government’s effort to share the migration burden with the rest of Europe.

The bill passed 93-61, after the lower Chamber of Deputies previously approved it. The proposal now awaits consideration by the Albanian parliament, after the country’s Constitutional Court gave it the go-ahead last month.

Under the five-year deal, Albania would shelter up to 3,000 migrants at a time in two centers while Italy fast-tracks their asylum requests.

The right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni has hailed the agreement as a sign of European solidarity, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has endorsed it. But human rights groups have expressed concern that Italy was outsourcing its international obligations, and the country's center-left opposition has branded it an expensive exercise in propaganda ahead of European elections in June.

The text of the agreement says the deal would cost Italy more than 600 million euros over five years to build and staff the centers in Albania and set up the remote screening processes — money the opposition says could be better used for Italy’s existing migrant processing centers.

On Thursday, the Italian bishops conference added its voice to the opposition, blasting the Albania accord as a waste of public spending, “an act of not managing migration, of not caring for the least of the earth.”

In a statement, Archbishop Gian Carlo Perego of the conference’s migrants office said the 673 million euros budgeted was literally money “thrown to the sea" that could have been used to create jobs or save lives.

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