Albania: Stuck on the Border

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Albania: Stuck on the Border

A 7-kilometer-long line of cars was stalled last
week at the southern border crossing of Kakavia between Albania and
Greece, along the dry valley of the Drinos River. The travelers
were surrounded by barren, rocky hills and scorched by the August
sun. Drivers lined up neatly in their cars, lest Greek border
officials force them to move to the end of the queue–and to
another day or more of torturous waiting.

Slow processing of travel documents at the only
two functioning border crossings with Greece stymied thousands of
Albanian emigrants. Many would-be workers and students were forced
to wait for days to cross the border into Greece at the end of
their summer vacations.

Only two computers were processing the
approximately 6,000 people lined up, and the third shift, from 1 am
to 8 am, was not functional.

Albania’s TV stations broadcast excruciating
pictures, with an endless line of cars and the garbage of plastic
bottles and food wrappers on the other side of the road. “It is
torture,” an emigrant told Telearberia, a private television
channel in Tirana.

Greek authorities said the delays were due to a
limited number of border offices and a brief computer failure. They
also called on the Albanian migrants to be patient.

Only two border-crossing offices work along
Albania’s southern border with Greece, in Kakavia and
Kapshtica/Krystallopygi, in the southeast. The shortage is partly
due to a bad road network linking the two counties. However,
Albania’s communist isolation during the second half of the last
century, and its tense relations with Greece since the 1940s have
not helped matters.

Many emigrants said they feared losing job
contracts due to their delayed return to work. Albanian Foreign
Minister Ilir Meta said that the emigrants should be patient, while
he asked the Greek authorities to speed up the procedures. But
Meta, who is not known for his charisma, failed to recognize the
rage of many emigrants waiting at the border.

The Albanian opposition fumed at a generally
silent government. “This is not happening at any other entrance to
Schengen countries that Greece is enforcing,” Jozefina Topalli,
deputy chair of the opposition Democratic Party, said. She
described the situation in Kakavija on 25 August as “miserable.”
“The government should not defend others, but its citizens,” she
said.

One woman was reported to have had a miscarriage
on 21 August in Kapshtica while waiting with her family to get
clearance to enter Greece in a queue that stretched, just like in
Kakavija, for kilometers.

The Albanian army sent in makeshift shelters,
and the government also sent ambulances amid fears of an upsurge in
epidemics.

Since 16 August, the two border crossings with
Greece have at times registered more than 15,000 Albanians waiting
to be processed to go back to Greece. Greek police said the
computer system at the Krystallopygi/Kapshtica border crossing and
at Kakavia failed and blocked entrance to the country, to the
despair of thousands who were anxious to get back to their jobs or
universities.

“We have no dignified government,” one emigrant
told Telearberia. “If they had any authority, they would convince
the Greeks to be faster.”

More than 50,000 Albanians are believed to have
returned home from Greece for their summer vacations. Greece is the
main job market for Albanian emigrants, with between 200,000 and
500,000 believed to live or work there. Many of them had been
illegal, but a big portion had been legalized recently after the
government in Athens moved to include Albanians in the country’s
social security system.

Italy comes second as the most likely
destinations for Albanian migrant workers, with between 100,000 and
250,000 believed to work there.

Emigration and remittances from workers abroad
are a mainstay of the poor Balkan country’s economy, believed to
contribute up to $500 million annually, according to Albanian
central bank estimates.

The government in Tirana said that last week’s
problems on the border harmed trade between the two countries as
well, as many traders shied away from the traffic. The
cash-strapped government is desperate to increase revenues amid
reports that customs revenues this year are significantly lower
than expected. But analysts said the trade between Greece and
Albania will pick up once the situation on the border returns to
normal.

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