Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Albania, Italian politics > Albanian refugees spur crisis in Italy

Albanian refugees spur crisis in Italy

March 20, 1997

by Robert Graham and Guy Dinmore

published on March 20 1997

The Italian government introduced a state of emergency yesterday to cope with the influx od Albanians fleeing across the Adriatic.

The Interior Ministry said that by early yesterday more than 10,000 Albanians had reached Italy since last Thrusday in a constant flow of boats. When Albania was consumed by anarchy last week, the Italian government set in motion plans to accommodate 3,50 Albanians in the Puglia region, which faces the Balkan state across the narrow Adriatic.

The decision to declare the state of emergency, which will last until June 30 and confer special powers that cut through bureaucracy and allow quick release of funds, came at a Cabinet meeting dedicated to the Albanian crisis.

Deputy Foreign Minster Piero Fassino said organized crime is now involved in the exodus. Gangs are charging at least $150 per person for transit. As fuel in Albanian ports become scarce, bigger vessels have been towing small craft, which are then left in international waters to be rescued by the Italians.
Yesterday saw the forst enforced repatriation of Albanians deemed undesirable. Helicopters ferried to Tirana, the Albanian capital, 210 people who had forced their way aboard the Italian warship San Giusto in Durres last week and who had been held at Taranto. Another 78 were flown from Bari to Tirana. Criminal records of hundreds more are being checked, but returning those who have escaped Albanian prisons is problematic since the jails were ransacked.

But the new Albanian coalition government is making stronger efforts to discourage the exodus. Police forces took control of Durres port from the criminal gangs yesterday, and no more refugees were seen at dockside.
Order has been restored to Tirana by mobilizing armed vigilantes, but looting and violence continues in southern Albanian towns.

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