The European Union will give financial aid to help Albania cope with any influx of migrants from Greece if they switched routes in an attempt to reach western Europe, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Friday.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and other states on the Western Balkans migration corridor between Greece and the west of the EU have sealed their borders, stranding around 43,000 refugees and other asylum seekers in Greece, some of them close to Albania.
Avramopoulos said there were no signs so far that refugees were seeking alternative transit through Albania but the EU's Frontex border agency was monitoring matters on the ground and the Albanian government had drawn up a contingency plan.
“Whatever comes as a request from the Albanian government, our reaction will be positive. If it happens, Albania will not be unprepared because we shall be here to help the Albanians address this issue,” Avramopoulos told reporters in Tirana after talks with Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.
The EU will provide financial and political assistance in the event Albania faced a tide of migrants, said Avramopoulos, who visited the Idomeni camp of stranded migrants on Greece's border with FYROM on Tuesday.
In Brussels on Friday, EU leaders approved a deal with Turkey intended to halt a tide of mainly Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants from that country into Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
Prime Minister Edi Rama told Avramopoulos that Albania stood ready to handle any arrival of migrants “within its possibilities and capacities as part of a joint European plan”, a statement from his office said.
Albania, a NATO member and a candidate for EU membership, is already getting help from Italy to reinforce security at its border with Greece to stop any Islamist militants from slipping in disguised as migrants and human smugglers from luring migrants to cross the Adriatic Sea to Italy in speedboats.
Such sea journeys have often proved deadly.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano is expected to finalise a cooperation agreement with Albania during a visit to Tirana next week. The deal would see Italy helping Albania record the biometric data of refugees entering the country and electronically sharing information on their identities and the route they had taken with Frontex and possibly Greece, an Albanian official said on Tuesday.
Avramopoulos said EU member states were not well-prepared when the migrant influx began last year “to face such a very complex and difficult situation and we still do not know what will its implications in our larger neighbourhood will be”.
Recalling the migration of Albanians to Italy and Avramopoulos's native Greece after communism crumbled in Albania in 1990, he pleaded for latter-day migrants be treated with “humanity and decency”.