EU to help Albania manage borders in migratory challenges

TIRANA, Albania — The European Union said Monday it has reached an agreement to assist Albania in border management and also deploy teams there to respond to potential flows of migrants.

Visiting EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed Albania for reaching the agreement "that will serve as a role model for similar arrangements ... with other partners in the Western Balkans."

A European Commission statement said the agreement, the first in the region, "will ... further enhance security at the EU's external borders."

The agreement must be endorsed by EU member states, then be signed by both parties, before the European Border and Coast Guard Agency can carry out operational activities and deploy teams in Albania.

Albanian Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj said the government also signed a memorandum of understanding with the EU on "concrete initiatives in the policies against narcotic drugs."

The government claims Albania is no longer a cannabis trafficking crossroads, and Xhafaj pledged his country would not be "on the map of countries cultivating cannabis."

In 2014, authorities raided an area in southern Albania that produced and trafficked cannabis that was estimated to be worth up to one-third of the country's annual GDP. They have seized hundreds of tons of the drug and destroyed millions of plants since then.

Last year the number of marijuana plantations diminished significantly, but regular seizures show that traffickers still have marijuana stored.

Avramopoulos urged Albania "to fully exploit such an opportunity and apply for funds" to fight drug production and consumption.

Albania, which was granted EU candidate status in 2014, hopes to launch membership negotiations this year.

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