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Italy will send asylum seekers to Albania, how do Christians in both countries see the deal?

Alesio Sema in Albania and Giacomo Ciccone in Italy address the issue of migration from an evangelical perspective.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus TIRANA 01 DE FEBRERO DE 2024 15:57 h
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. / Facebook Edi Rama.

Italy has closed a bilateral deal with Albania to transfer the asylum applications of thousands of people to the Balkan country.  

Along the same lines as it has done in the past with Libya and Tunisia, the protocol signed by Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and her counterpart in the Balkan country, Edi Rama, provided for the transfer to Albania of up to 36,000 asylum applications per year and the construction on Albanian soil of identification and control centres to which migrants rescued in Italian waters would be transported.

Under the agreement, reported British news website BBC, some 3,000 people arriving into Italian waters per month would be detained in two processing centres near the Albanian north-western port of Shengjin while their asylum claims are examined. The Italian government would cover all the costs, Italian staff would run the centres, and all operations would be under Italian law.

Despite the project was blocked by the Albanian Constitutional Court to make sure it would not collide with the country’s constitution, the deal received the green light of the judges at the end of January.



The European Union has just approved an agreement on migration which, among other aims, would put an end to such bilateral agreements between countries. This EU ‘pact’ demands “obligatory solidarity” between member states. But the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, assured that the Italy-Albania deal is “outside” the scope of application of EU legislation and it therefore did not represent a “violation”.

Meanwhile, organisations such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have criticised the agreement between Tirana and Rome as an “attack to the right to asylum”. Amnesty International asked the Italian Parliament not to support an agreement that it describes as “harmful”, and to implement “measures to ensure adequate reception in Italy”.

Over 155,000 migrants entered Italy irregularly in 2023, around 50% more than in 2022.


One of Meloni’s “flagship” campaign measures

Migration control was one of the star measures of Giorgia Meloni’s campaign in the 2022 elections, and she won. For this reason, says the president of the Italian Evangelical Alliance (AEI), Giacomo Ciccone, the agreement with Albania can be seen as “a political answer of the prime minister, especially to her supporters (…) They see this as a coherent and effective attempt to block irregular immigration, while her opponents see it as another propaganda action”, Ciccone told Protestante Digital.

The leader of this evangelical body in Italy says such protocols are “not new” in Western countries. In Australia, the administration has settled many migrants in offshore centres, and the European Union paid Turkey to stop migrants, especially during the Syrian crisis.

“The agreement between Italy and Albania has been reached with the backing of top European leaders”, says Ciccone, although he is not sure whether the whole project is “a good solution”. “I personally think that management costs of offshore/foreign centres are higher. And many further issues and problems arise. I do not want to be prejudicially against, but honestly, I cannot see it as a positive breakthrough for the issue. Moreover, it will be necessary to allow NGOs and third-party entities to evaluate the respect for human rights in the centres”, the evangelical leader told this website.

Ciccone pointed to the need that such deals comply with the countries’ legal frameworks. Nevertheless, the “silver lining” of the whole debate, says Ciccone, is “understanding that some big issues need countries to work together”.


Albania: a willingness to welcome refugees

From Albania, the secretary general of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania (VUSH), Alesio Sema, explained to Protestante Digital that many in the country support the agreement with Italy. “Young people are leaving our country for good, and on the other hand, we are ready to host refugees. Many people were scared as they thought that we don’t have the capacity to host such a big number of emigrants”.

The reasons for the Albanian government to approve the deal with Italy has to do with “migration experiences” the country has had in the past, “including the Kosovar war and also the Afghani refugees”, as well as the conviction that the country has “proven to be able to take care of refugees”, says Sema.

In the background, there is also the hope of Albania to join the European Union. “Albania is a candidate, and if we are about to join the European Union, we should be a help to the member countries. In this way, relationships are strengthened, and Albania shows it is able to take care of migration, which is a huge topic discussed in the past years”.

A third factor to keep in mind, adds the secretary general of Vush, is that the “Albanian and the Italian governments have had very good relationships at least after the fall of Communism in Albania. It is in the interest of the Albanian government to keep strong relationships with its ally, of course after reaching an agreement that brings mutual benefits”, he adds.


How evangelicals in Italy and Albania see migration

Although Italy and Albania have their own realities, evangelicals in both countries do appeal to common biblical principles. “We believe that we should welcome and help those in need”, says Alesio Sema, “our attitude towards the issue of migration is positive, as we are called to demonstrate Christ, just what Jesus would have done”, he remarks.

In the practice, the Albanian Evangelical Alliance has set up a group to organise “practical help” in the area of migration. “We must keep in mind that migration situations give zero chances of Albanian people to meet with the refugees. The Refugees are sent to stay in a designated location with no connection from the outside”. This is why the Evangelical Alliance in Albania  aims to “offer special help through the local churches and organizations (…) There are medical organizations, child care organizations and other social or humanitarian organizations ready to provide help. This is the way we can contribute and help those who come to our country”.

In Italy, Ciccone underlines that the Evangelical Alliance has long been thinking about refugees and working for them as well. “Fifteen years ago, as Italian Evangelical Alliance, we expressed that the two main biblical categories to consider for integration are welcoming and responsibility”.

“On the one hand, the evangelical churches are many hundreds of yards where Christians live together under this model, and it works well! As Italian Evangelical Alliance, we are promoting this model as a feast to celebrate, through the Refugee Sunday sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance that more and more churches are celebrating in Italy. On the other hand, the people of God have to give systemic answers to their community, and we do not want to retreat from this commitment. The biblical categories are really useful for rethinking social architecture and even Europe itself. On a biblical basis, we can promote a ‘federal framework’ at many levels”, he explains.

Faith groups “can play a crucial role” in many social challenges, including migration management. For example, “asylum applications for religious persecution cannot be rightly assessed without the direct involvement of the religious communities people belong to. As Italian Evangelical Alliance, we cooperate with the Government in this direction for persecuted Christians. We are encouraged by this, but we see many challenges too”, Ciccone says.

The leader of the Italian Evangelical Alliance concludes with a warning: “Every time a government says, ‘I can do this alone!’, often it makes big mistakes”.


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