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Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy on Tuesday heralded an agreement she had struck with Albania, a non-European Union nation, to outsource the processing and containment of migrants as a breakthrough for one of the continent’s most defining challenges.
“I believe it could become a model of cooperation between E.U. and non-E.U. countries in managing migration flows,” Ms. Meloni told the Rome-based daily newspaper Il Messaggero. “I think this agreement features a bold European spirit.”
But Italian politicians caught by surprise by Ms. Meloni’s announcement in Rome on Monday questioned whether the agreement — struck earlier this week with the nation across the Adriatic Sea — was legal, ethical, practical or even real.
“Before further commenting, we need to understand what exactly they want to do,” Anitta Hipper, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said on Tuesday.
While the details of the deal remain murky, Italy’s motivation could not be clearer. In the past year, the country has seen migrant arrivals from Tunisia and Libya increase to more than 145,700 from 88,400 last year, according to data from the Italian Interior Ministry. While the European Union struggles to modernize and overhaul the migration system and herd its members states into a consensus, migrants keep coming, and leaders like Ms. Meloni feel the urgency of the issue.
Ms. Meloni — who rose to power in part on anti-migrant vitriol, including threats to impose naval blockades against migrant boats — knows that fear of migrants is a powerful political issue. She has struck deals with Tunisia and renewed agreements with Libya, argued for European Union partners to share the burden and sought to impose harsh penalties on migrant smugglers, casting the issue as a crime of human trafficking.