OP-ED/Albania and the issue of refugees

OP-ED/Albania and the issue of refugees
This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al

By ALFRED PEZA

This is the first time after 1990 and perhaps the first time during the entire history of the Albanian state, that the fleeing of Albanian citizens outside the country’s border “for a better life” is not the main topic of the order of the day, but the contrary. But, more and more is being said about the possibility of the arrival of a large number of refugees, mainly from countries in war, going through humanitarian crises or even from countries with a high level of migration who want to reach Germany and other EU member countries by crossing the Balkan borders.

“From January to June 13th of this year, around 2500 people have entered the territory of Albania and 1500 have applied for asylum”, announced UHNCR office in the regional center in Bosnia. Receiving countries or transit Balkan countries are required to set up the necessary structures and implement the necessary procedures according to international standards. This means: identifying people who have special needs such as victims of trafficking or unaccompanied minors, to refer them to the competent institutions. UHNCR-se spokesperson, Neven Crvenkovic told Deutche Welle that this organization is present in all the main border crossing points and that it’s coordinating its work with border police and emigration authorities by monitoring the situation.

These numbers of asylum applications are uncommon for a country such as Albania, which has always been a poor country and which, for decades and more than a century, has exported emigrants to more developed countries, mainly in Europe and the American continent. This phenomenon still continues in different forms, including the high number of applications for the US Lottery. However, the Albanian media raises the alarm that Albania may turn into a shelter for refugee camps. All of this in exchange of a positive decision to open EU accession talks.

Categories of emigrants in Albania

Up until today, three different categories of potential emigrants have been identified in Albania: political emigrants who are members of the Iranian opposition in exile and members of the MEK organization. This is a relatively small number, who arrived here following an agreement reached between Albania and USA.

The second category includes potential emigrants for which there have been rumours that they may arrive to Albania due to a discussion among EU member countries for the opening of refugee camps in our territory. And these speculations will grow as the country prepares for the decision that the EU is expected to take on 28th of June regarding the opening of accession talks.

The third category includes “regular emigrants” or those foreign nationals who live and work in Albania after being issued with a stay permit by the country’s authorities.

Once upon a time, Albania used to be a preferred country for the Chinese. It’s true that they have not set up a China Town as they’ve done in any other developed country of the world, but they have always been an important community. But now, the Chinese have been outnumbered by the Italians, while the country is also welcoming other nationalities such as Indians, Greek, Swiss, etc.

The Albanian labor market is quite interesting for a particular category of foreign citizens, because there’s still a high demand for qualified workers who specialize in old traditional crafts, which could not be taught for a long time in Albania due to the lack of professional schools.

However, new technologies are also attracting foreigners in this country, because this area requires specific skills.

Global challenges concerning refugees and Albania

UNHCR has published the Global Trend on the refugee crisis. What catches the eye in the last report was that the number of people who were displaced through violence in the world has achieved “record levels”.  According to the report, a total of 68.5 million people were displaced at the end of 2017, 2.9 million more than in 2016. In 2017 alone, 16.2 million people left their homes. This is the biggest increase in the number of refugees that UNHCR has seen in a single year. Refugees mainly migrate from poor or average income countries to rich countries. It goes without saying that the US and Germany are the two main destinations for refugees.

Albania is not a rich country, but this does not exclude us from being a preferred destination in the future. The fact that the country is located in the main routes that refugees choose to reach countries such as Germany, favours this.

The more Albania advances in the process of EU accession, the more it turns into an attractive destination for refugees. First, because this may be imposed as an obligation due to the joint responsibilities with member countries. Secondly, because the country offers more guarantees not to allow a very small number of refugees to penetrate deep into the continent.

This is not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t be alarmed either. On the contrary, being a nation which has always migrated to other countries, we cannot turn our backs to these people in need.

 Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy

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