Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, right, and Albania's Prime Minister Edi...

Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, right, and Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, left, shake hands after the signing of a memorandum of understanding on migrant management centers during a meeting in Rome, Italy, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday Jan. 29, 2024 said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their. Credit: AP/Roberto Monaldo

TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their asylum applications are processed.

Thirty Albanian lawmakers attempted to block the deal’s ratification by referring it to the court. Now the agreement signed in November between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni can be voted on in Parliament.

The court’s head, Holta Zacaj, called the deal “in line with the Constitution."

With Rama's left-wing Socialist Party holding 74 of Parliament's 140 seats, the deal is expected to pass. No date has been set for the parliamentary debate and vote.

The agreement, endorsed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen but widely criticized by human rights groups, is part of Meloni’s efforts to share the work of addressing migration with other European countries.

Under the deal, two centers will be set up in Albania to process asylum applications by people rescued by Italian authorities in international waters.

Italy’s lower chamber of parliament approved the deal last week, and it is waiting for the Senate, where Meloni’s right-wing forces have a comfortable majority.

A man walks at the port of Shengjin, northwestern Albania,...

A man walks at the port of Shengjin, northwestern Albania, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, one of two proposed places to house migrants. Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday Jan. 29, 2024 said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their asylum applications are processed. Credit: AP/Armando Babani

In Albania's capital of Tirana, a small group gathered outside the courthouse to protest the deal.

Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the International Rescue Committee have strongly opposed the deal, with the latter saying it would push “people onto ever more dangerous routes in search of safety.”

The International Organization for Migration on Monday said nearly 100 people have died or disappeared in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean since the beginning of 2024. That's twice as high compared to the same period in 2023, which was considered the deadliest year for migrants at sea in Europe since 2016.

Under the five-year deal with Italy, Albania would shelter up to 3,000 migrants at any one time. With asylum requests expected to take around a month to process, the number of asylum-seekers sent to Albania could reach up to 36,000 in a year.

A worker walks at the port of Shengjin, northwestern Albania,...

A worker walks at the port of Shengjin, northwestern Albania, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, one of two proposed places to house migrants. Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday Jan. 29, 2024 said a deal can go ahead with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their asylum applications are processed. Credit: AP/Armando Babani

The two facilities in Albania would be fully run by Italy while it fast-tracks their asylum requests. Italy would remain legally responsible for the migrants throughout the process. It would welcome them in should they be granted international protection or organize their deportation from Albania if refused.

Those picked up within Italy’s territorial waters would retain their right under international and EU law to apply for asylum in Italy and have their claims processed there.

Rama has said that Albania stands beside Meloni in a sign of gratitude on behalf of Albanians who found refuge in Italy and “escaped hell and imagined a better life” following the collapse of communism in Albania in the 1990s.

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Nicole Winfield in Rome, Italy; and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed.

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