Belgium sending 93 high-risk Albanian convicts back home, caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme announced Thursday, after striking a deal with his Albanian counterpart Sali Berisha, dpa reported
Belgian prisons are chronically overcrowded, contributing to security lapses which led last year to a number of embarassing high- profile escapes.
"For a couple of decades we've had the problem of Albanian criminals being active in Brussels, like in other capitals of Europe. It is very positive that after three-to-four months of negotiations we reached an agreement," Leterme told the German Press Agency dpa.
He added that repatriations would "start as soon as possible."
The Belgian premier, who is staying on until a new government is formed, following elections in June , recalled that a similar deal to repatriate criminals from Kosovo.
Berisha, for his part, sought to dispel doubts over Albania's reputation on law and order.
"It's absolutely a thing of the past. Albania now has a crime rate far lower than the European Union average," he said.
The Balkan country is hopeful the EU will recognize its efforts by granting it visa-free access to the Schengen area by the end of the year.
"I'm quite positive, I think they've made a lot of progress and I hope that we will be able to launch the legislative procedure in a couple of months," Leterme said.
When Schengen visas were scrapped in late 2009 for Serbs, Macedonian and Montenegrins, Belgian authorities complained of being swamped with asylum requests from ethnic Albanians living in Serbia and Macedonia.
Berisha promised it would not happen with Albania, saying his government had "launched a very intensive PR campaign" to explain to the population that visa liberalisation would not give them the right to move permanently to a Schengen-area countr