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April 1995, Volume 2, Number 4

Greece and Albania Agree on Seasonal Workers

Relations between Greece and Albania soured again at the end of March after a report that Greek border guards shot and killed an Albanian man who had crossed into Greece illegally and ignored warning shots while returning. The Greek government denied that the shooting occurred.

There had been hope that relations between the two countries were improving after Greece's foreign minister visited Albania. The mid-March visit was designed to repair relations after Greece expelled 70,000 Albanians in 1994 in retaliation for Albania sentencing several ethnic Greeks to death for spying. There are about 400,000 ethnic Greeks among Albania's three million people.

Greece and Albania agreed to establish a program under which Albanians can work seasonally in Greece. They also agreed to consider opening a Greek bank branch in Tirana to facilitate the transfer of remittances from Albanian workers in Greece.

Albania is the poorest country in Europe. According to the government, unemployment is 30 percent, although some Albanians claim it is 80 percent. There is running water only three times per day and the electricity supply is sporadic.

According to a poll by a Tirana professor, 82 percent of Albanians would leave the country if they could, and only Germany has agreed to accept a few hundred Albanian emigrants. Malaysia is the only country to allow Albanians to enter without a visa.

On March 26, police dispersed 1,200 youth in Tirana who had assembled outside the US Embassy after a newspaper falsely reported that the US was offering work visas. A similar incident occurred three days earlier.

On the streets of the Albanian capital of Tirana, counterfeit passports sell for about $US 5,000. A visa to Italy is about $US 1,500. Families purchase the documents with their life savings --the average income in Albania is less than $US 400 per year. If they cannot afford false documents, Albanians go to Vlora to catch a $US 500 to $US 1,000 three-hour boat ride to Italy, where taxis wait to take them to the train station.

Italian border police report that 11,000 ethnic Albanians from the Kosovo province in Serbia have vanished after arriving legally in the country. Border police speculate that they moved on to France and Germany. Citizens of former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo Albanians, do not need visas to enter Italy.

"Report: Greek police killed Albanian," UPI, March 30, 1995. "Greece Denies Tirana border shooting report," Reuters, March 30, 1995. "Rumor Fuels Riot in Albania," Washington Post, March 27, 1995, A20. "Albanian would-be emigrants storm US embassy," Agence France Presse, March 26, 1995. Nils Kongshaug, "A Thousand Secret Paths Lead from Albania," Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 1995. "Thousands of Albanian migrants vanish," Agence France Presse, March 21, 1995.< a>