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Albania’s constitutional court temporarily suspended a migration deal between the Albanian and Italian governments, which would have allowed Rome to send thousands of asylum seekers to its neighboring Balkan country for processing instead of remaining in their country of arrival, the BBC reported Thursday.
The court’s ruling follows two petitions by the country’s opposition, who warned the deal would violate international law and threaten Albania’s territorial sovereignty.
In its Thursday verdict, judges said the ruling would temporarily block the ratification of the deal, and they ordered a hearing next month to decide whether the agreement violated Albania’s constitution.
Albania’s ruling Socialist Party, which has a majority in parliament, was set to ratify it.
The agreement was signed last month by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama, prompting criticism from opposition politicians in both countries.
Under the plan, the Italian government would build two reception centers in northeastern Albania to annually process around 36,000 migrants attempting to stay in Italy. Italian authorities would operate the facilities and in certain cases have immunity from Albanian law.
The court’s ruling throws a wrench into Meloni’s plans to make the centers operational by next spring.
Observers compared the Italian-Albanian agreement to the British government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to the African country of Rwanda for processing.
The British scheme received harsh criticism from human rights groups and faced legal challenges at home, with the UK’s top court ruling it illegal last month.
Despite the United Kingdom sending more than $300 million to Rwanda, no asylum seekers have so far been sent there under the program, which the government is trying to revive following the court ruling.