24th Mar 2018


Albania won't become EU 'gateway,' Italian admiral says

  • Italian navy couldn't stop migrant boats, like the Vlora, in the 1990s Albania crisis (Photo: Alan Kotok)

There is little risk that migrants will enter the EU en masse via Albania, Italy’s former defence chief has said, adding that a deal with Russia on Syria is the best way to restore “stability”.

“I don’t think it [Albania] will become the main gateway [for migrants]," admiral Luigi Binelli Mantelli told EUobserver from Italy in an interview on Thursday (10 March).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Binelli Mantelli (centre, on left) was Italy's defence chief from 2013 to 2015. (Photo: US Naval Forces Europe-Africa)

“Albania has very attentive border control and doesn’t suffer from illegal immigration,” he said.

He also said it has a “strong will” to work with the EU because it wants to be a member and because it’s a “full Nato ally.”

Concern had mounted that migrants would divert to Albania after the EU closed the Greek-Macedonia border this week.

The closure of the Western Balkan corridor was part of a broader EU deal with Turkey on taking back migrants.

Binelli Mantelli was chief of the Italian Defence General Staff from 2013 to 2015.

He also took part in operations in Italy's migrant crisis in the early 1990s, when the fall of communism in Albania prompted a mass exodus of people across the Adriatic.

The EU-Turkey deal centres on stopping migrants crossing the Aegean to Greece. But Binelli Mantelli said the 1990s crisis showed that navies can’t stop migrant boats.

He recalled the Vlora incident in 1991 when thousands of Albanian migrants forced a cargo ship to enter the port of Bari in Italy.

“We tried to stop it with some harassment by our vessels but it was impossible because it was very dangerous for the people on board,” he said.

“When you’re at sea any operation quickly turns into a rescue operation. It’s not like a land theatre … Even in World War II when our submarines waged war they also came to rescue people.”

He said Italy stabilised the 1990s crisis by working with Albania’s post-communist government to stop migrant boats from leaving shore.

“This is a problem of intelligence, surveillance, and interception. You need strong security cooperation between the countries involved,” he said.

Russia deal

Binelli Mantelli, who is retired, said his comments reflected his personal opinion and not the official position of the Italian military.

He said a deal with Russia would do more to help the current situation than the EU deal with Turkey.

Russia’s “very powerful [military] posture” in Syria has put it in a position to restore the authority of its ally, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, the Italian admiral said.

The EU and US have said Assad must leave power due to war crimes.

But Binelli Mantelli said: “At the moment the only stability that we can have is with Bashar al-Assad there. There are no other solutions.”

He said that “the migrant problem from Turkey and Greece will continue” despite the EU-Turkey deal.

He said the huge number of migrants makes “the eagerness to stop them there weak” in both countries.

He also said the Turkey-Greece sea crossing is hard to police.

“There are many ferries with trucks which contain clandestine migrants … There are tourist boats full of people and, in the summer, lots of sail boats and motor boats, so migrant boats can come undetected,” he said.

In terms of broader Russia relations, he said there is no risk of a Russia-Nato military confrontation.

“I’m not so worried about the Ukraine crisis. We will probably find a solution with Russia, a reasonable agreement, which of course means giving up something,” he said.

He said Russia would “never withdraw” from Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“For all the faults of Russia, its show of muscles, its power-policy, but also for that same reason we should be careful about surrounding Russia too much with Nato. They have a different approach. We’re more confident. But they’re not so confident in the [Nato-Russia] relatioship,” he said.

IS in Libya

Binelli Mantelli warned that instability in Libya could “intensify” migration in the western Mediterranean.

He said the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has penetrated Libya via an east-west maritime corridor from Syria and via Mali.

The EU is taking part in UN-led talks on a Libya unity government. It is also interested in relaunching a border control mission in Libya.

But Binelli Mantelli said: “It isn’t a problem of two or three governments. It’s a problem of more than 100 tribes, each one with its own interests in human trafficking, oil smuggling, arms, and drugs. People say we should talk with this or that government [in Libya], but they [Libyan authorities] have no power to control the tribes.”

He said Egypt is helping Nato to stop IS in Libya.

Egypt is to take delivery of two French warships, the so-called Mistral amphibious assault vessels, in September. Binelli Mantelli said “hypothetically” that Egypt could use them “to improve the posture of its forces from Tobruk [in eastern Libya] westward.”

Russia 'weaponising' refugees against EU

Russia is “weaponising migration” as part of a broader campaign to extend its influence in Europe, Nato’s military chief has said, echoing German and Turkish concern.


EU outshines Russia in Western Balkans

Russia cannot compete with the EU for attractiveness in the Western Balkans, but can play an 'obstructive' role, Albania's foreign minister said.

Danes to appeal conviction for helping refugees

A Danish couple have been fined €3,000 for giving a lift to Syrian refugees, which judges deemed to be smuggling. They plan to appeal against the verdict in order not to set a precedent.

EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints

EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".

EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints

EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".

Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant

Niger has temporarily stopped all evacuations from Libya detention centres under an EU funded programme because so few are being resettled to Europe. Many of those that have been evacuated are pregnant, with some asking for HIV testing.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections