By Gjergj Erebara
The European Council has told BIRN it has no plans to set up so-called disembarkation platforms for rescued refugees in Albania – as an often xenophobic discussion of the subject continues in the country.
In a response to a query from BIRN, it answered: “No. The regions are not yet identified as we are only talking about possibly exploring this concept,” asked whether plans exist to create the so-called “Regional Disembarkation Platforms” in Albania.
The European Council meets on 28 June to discuss a variety of issues, including the Commission’s recommendation to open EU membership negotiations with Albania and Macedonia.
However, the migration crisis is expected to be the main topic – an issue that took on new urgency when German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer suggested Germany should turn back migrants at its borders. The issue threatens to topple Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.
A draft conclusion for the June 28 meeting, prepared by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called for “the development of the concept of regional disembarkation platforms in close cooperation with UNHCR and IOM.”
“Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys,” the document reads.
Media outlets have reported that both Albania and Tunisia are possible locations of such platforms.
Albania’s opposition centre-right Democratic Party has accused Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama of agreeing already to host refugee camps in Albania in exchange for the opening of negotiations.
Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha on Facebook has repeatedly accused the centre-left government of accepting “600,000 Syrian former ISIS terrorists”.
Current party leader Lulzim Basha on Tuesday said that such a plan would make Albanians a minority in their own country.
Democratic Party MP Klevis Balliu went further, claiming the government planned to banish “the people of [Albania national hero] Skanderbeg to substitute them with the people of Sultan Mehmed”.
The government has denied making any such offer. However, various politicians in EU countries, including Austria and Germany, have discussed the possibility in the media, fuelling the xenophobic debate in Albania.
In the meantime, the UK Guardian has reported that Tunisia has rejected a proposal to host a “disembarkation platform”.
The Tunisian ambassador to the EU, Tahar Cherif, told the paper that Germany and Italy had proposed the idea months ago, and Tunisia had refused.