The Italian government announced Friday that thousands of Albanian refugees who have arrived by boat in southern Italy will be sent back because they are economic and not political refugees.

A top aide to Premier Giulio Andreotti said that Albanians who do not qualify for political asylum will be subject to strict immigration laws. The aide, Nino Cristofori spoke after a Cabinet meeting today.Italian officials said most of the Albanians are fleeing the communist country's battered economy and not political persecution. Albania is Europe's poorest nation and last hard-line communist regime.

Under Italian law, immigrants face expulsion if they can not prove they have a permanent job and place to stay in Italy.

Government spokesman Pio Mastrobuoni said, however, that no immediate decision has been made on how and when Albanians would be repatriated. But he said the operation might be carried out by Italian ships flying the U.N. flag.

Mastrobuoni said Italy's navy and coast guard would begin seizing any ships carrying Albanian refugees to Italy. Most of the refugees have disembarked from packed boats at this Italian port in recent days, swamping the docks with would-be emigres.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, meanwhile, appealed to Italy Friday not to prevent any Albanian asylum-seekers from landing on Italian shores.