The European Union said it has signed an agreement with Albania allowing EU border guards to enter the Balkan country to help control migrants. Friday's announcement marks the first official deal of this kind with a third country, but two draft agreements have also been struck. On Sept. 20, the EU concluded one with Serbia, and on July 18, with Macedonia.
EU headquarters said on Friday that the agreement is "aimed at tackling irregular migration, in particular sudden changes in migratory flows, and cross-border crime." Under the agreement, the border guards could enter Albania, if Tirana agrees, and would be armed. They would not operate under Albanian law and could not be searched.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the accord "is a milestone in the EU's external cooperation on border management," The Associated Press reported.
The news comes on the heels of a new European Commission proposal to increase Frontex staffing from the current 1,500 to 10,000 by 2020. Albania, which is not in the EU, has become a preferred route for migrants moving toward northern Europe from Greece and Bulgaria since Serbia tightened border controls. The Balkan region has been the focus of migration-policy debates. Three years ago, the Balkan route was one of the main corridors for the more than 1 million migrants who reached Western Europe. Even though the route has all but been shut down since early 2016 through coordinated border closure measures, thousands of migrants still manage to pass through.