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June 1995, Volume 2, Number 6

Italy, Albania Take Measures to Control Illegal Immigration

Every night hundreds of Kurds, Albanians, Yugoslavs, and Chinese are ferried from Albania across the Adriatic Sea to Italy. At its closest point, Albania is 50 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Officials estimate over 50,000 illegal immigrants enter the European Union each year through Italy's heel.

The governments of Albania and Italy announced a joint task force on May 27 to deal with the problem of illegal immigration from Albania to Italy. Italy has also tighten its border controls. On May 10, the Italian government moved 1,000 soldiers to the southern Adriatic coast to deter illegal immigrants from entering the country, and another 500 will be moved into the area during the summer months.

After six days at the border, the Italian troops arrested only 30 Turkish Kurds and one Albanian crossing the Adriatic. The Kurds were given medical checks, photographed, and then released and told to leave Italy within 15 days.

Albania has also assigned 300 troops to stop Albanians from leaving their homeland. The Albanian Interior and Defense ministries recently tightened maritime and land border crossing patrols to prevent the country from being used as a springboard for illegal immigrants. In May 1995, Albania turned back about 500 Turks, Kurds, Pakistanis and Chinese.

One reason why illegal immigrants aim to enter the EU through Italy is that, under the 1991 Martelli law, most illegal aliens who are apprehended are given 15 days to leave the country--only Albanians are expelled immediately. If caught trying to enter Italy without papers, Albanians are returned on a ferry that makes the journey between Italy and Albania three times each week. Italy does not require visas from former Yugoslav nationals, a violation of an agreement made by Schengen members in January.

The Italian foreign minister is considering granting temporary seasonal visas to Albanians in an effort to reduce illegal immigration.

An eleven-page report by the Carabinieri, the armed police of the Italian Interior Ministry, details how Turkish smuggling organizations move Turks into Europe through Italy. Turkish migrants enter Italy along the Apulian coast, having been brought across the Adriatic from Albania. Until it was blocked by the war in ex-Yugoslavia, the more direct land route through the Balkans was used.

Most of the current illegal border crossers are Kurds, attracted by the prospect of jobs in Germany. They are collected by the smuggling organization in busses from such Kurdish cities as Eiazig, Bingol, Mes, Palu, Eleskirt, Varto and Nardin, driven through Bulgaria to Albania, and parceled out to operators who take them by truck and bus to the harbor cities of Durres and Vlore, where Italy is only fifty miles away across the Straits of Otranto.

From Italian coastal towns, they are taken by train to Milan or Voghera to San Remo or Ventimiglia, and then taken across the French border to Marseille and Lyon. They are then moved from France to Germany.

The Carabinieri report says that the smugglers take the Turks' passports at the start of the journey, so that they can control them more easily, and also so that the Turks are in better position to claim asylum should they be caught. Smugglers charge each migrant about $4,300 for the whole trip--$2,100 as far as Albania, $1,050 for the boat crossing to Italy, another $500 or $600 to get to France, and the rest for the final push to Germany.

The Carabinieri estimate that the smuggling organization has brought more than 7,000 unauthorized migrants through Italy into France, and has earned itself some $28 million in that way. In the first quarter of 1995, the German border police picked up 435 Turkish citizens attempting illegally to cross the French and Benelux borders into Germany. There is no estimate of how many people may have succeeded.

Germany's Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther, argued that Italy must police its borders more effectively. Kanther has said that Italy is disregarding the spirit of Schengen by allowing hundreds of illegal immigrants into the EU every day. Italy has signed but not implemented the Schengen agreement.

In Rome, Kanther was contradicted by Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Refugee Council, who said that the influx of Kurds was a long-range consequence of the German recruitment of Turkish guest workers in the 1960s.

Italy is also facing an influx of illegal Chinese immigrants being smuggled in by Chinese gangs. Italian authorities are concerned that the Chinese and Italian mafias are working together.

"Italy and Albania set up joint task force to tackle illegal immigration," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, May 29, 1995. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, May 26, 1995. Andrew Gumbel, "Illegal migrants reach EU havens via Italy, The Independent, May 20, 1995. Anthony M. DeStefano, "Smuggling Hub, Albania a new route to US for illegals," Newsday, May 13, 1995. Vera Haller, "Italy tries to stem deluge of illegal immigrants," Reuters, May 18, 1995. "China Gangs," Newsweek, May 8, 1995. "Ministries crack down on smuggling of people," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, May 9, 1995. Llazar Semini, "Albania cracks down on illegal immigrant smuggling," Reuters, May 9, 1995. John Hooper, "Troops Seal Europe's Back Door," The Guardian, May 11, 1995. Bruce Johnston, "Italy vows to resist Albanian 'invasion,'" Daily Telegraph, May 11, 1995. "EU Sees Wave of Immigrants from the East," European Social Policy, May 12, 1995. "Germany Accuses Italy of Lax Border Controls," Reuters, May 14, 1995.