Monday

23rd Sep 2019

Interview

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).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Interview

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.

Four EU states want 'automatic' refugee relocation

The interior ministers from France, Germany, Italy, and Malta are meeting on Monday to discuss a new temporary and voluntary agreement for the relocation of asylum seekers, that will prevent EU countries from negotiating case-by-case.

News in Brief

  1. Barnier: Johnson's plan for Irish backstop unacceptable
  2. Google will only listen to audio if users give consent
  3. German bank fined for cheating Danish tax system
  4. Supreme Court ruling on Johnson on Tuesday
  5. 10 arrests over possible Catalonia anniversary attacks
  6. 53% of Europeans think LGTBI discrimination is widespread
  7. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  8. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  2. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  4. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  8. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  10. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  11. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  12. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  6. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  7. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  10. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us