27 January 1992
on the exodus of Albanian nationals
(Rapporteur: Mr BÖHM, Germany, CDU)
The disastrous economic, social and political situation in Albania has had a traumatic effect on its citizens and left them with little hope for the future. Since mid-1990, several hundreds of thousands of Albanian nationals have tried to leave their country, often illegally, seeking economic betterment in neighbouring countries.
The most recent mass exodus took place in August 1991, when thousands of Albanians, the majority of them young men, aboard several ships, forced their way into ports of southern Italy where they were allowed to disembark for humanitarian reasons. However, some days later the Italian authorities repatriated the majority of them. Further exoduses are to be expected if the economic and social situation in Albania does not improve.
The legal situation of those Albanian nationals who succeeded in remaining in the neighbouring countries is not always clearly defined.
For Albania, this exodus, mainly of young people and unaccompanied children, constitutes a tremendous loss.
The Council of Europe member states should contribute generously to the special account "Emergency aid for Albania" opened by the Committee of Ministers to alleviate the acute hardship suffered by the Albanian population.
Moreover, European states should provide aid designed to promote an economic recovery and create a social and economic environment which will encourage Albanians to remain in their country.
The Council of Europe Social Development Fund should be used to finance programmes providing professional training for Albanian nationals in European countries and facilitating their voluntary return to Albania.
The countries directly concerned by the arrival of Albanians should provide these people adequate assistance, define their legal situation clearly and establish, in close co-operation with the International Organisation for Migration and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, programmes of voluntary return.
I. DRAFT RECOMMENDATION
1. Albania's forty years of isolation from the rest of the world, combined with its disastrous economic, social and political situation, have had traumatic effects on its citizens.
2. Since mid-1990, several hundreds of thousands of Albanians, although their knowledge of other countries was based solely on what they had heard or seen on foreign television, left Albania in search of better economic conditions abroad. Those who did not succeed in finding employment have returned voluntarily or have been repatriated.
3. For Albania, this exodus, mainly of young people and unaccompanied children, constitutes a tremendous loss.
4. The Assembly welcomes the Committee of Ministers' decision to open a special account "Emergency aid for Albania" to alleviate the acute hardship suffered by the Albanian population.
5. However, the events which took place in Italy have proved the need for stronger European co-operation in solving the problems caused by the mass exodus of asylum-seekers.
6. Therefore, while recognising that the Italian authorities, in August 1991, acted for the best in a real situation of necessity, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
i. take all such measures as are needed to enable Albania to become a stabilising factor in the Balkan region;
ii. consider ways and means of helping the Albanian authorities in initiating a process of economic and social development that will encourage Albanians to remain in their country;
iii. take the necessary measures to coordinate and improve European assistance to Albania;
iv. co-operate with the Albanian authorities and the international humanitarian organisations concerned in implementing programmes aimed at informing Albanians better of the prevailing economic and social situation in neighbouring countries;
v. invite the governments of member states:
a. to contribute generously to the special account "Emergency aid for Albania";
b. to make use of the Council of Europe Social Development Fund to finance programmes providing professional training for Albanian nationals in the host countries and facilitating their voluntary return to Albania;
c. to support the activities of international humanitarian organisations in Albania;
vi. invite the governments of member states directly concerned by the arrival of Albanians:
a. to provide these people with adequate assistance and define their legal situation;
b. to submit schemes to the Council of Europe Social Development Fund which will help to meet the needs of the Albanians living within their borders at the present time;
c. to establish, in close co-operation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), programmes of voluntary return.
II. EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM
by Mr BÖHM
INTRODUCTION: THE SITUATION IN ALBANIA 5
THE MASS EXODUS FROM ALBANIA 6
EUROPE'S RESPONSIBILITY AFTER THE MASS EXODUS 9
INTRODUCTION: THE SITUATION IN ALBANIA
1. Nowhere in Europe are the devastating effects of Communism more evident than in Albania. A Communist government was set up after the second world war under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. A proto-Stalinist dictator, Hoxha progressively isolated his country from the outside world, first severing relations with his former ally, the Soviet Union, in order to strengthen links with the People's Republic of China. This latter alliance, however, was short-lived, and after breaking with China the Albanians were completely isolated. In Europe, Albania's fate was ignored; indeed, the Albanians can justifiably be called the "forgotten Europeans".
2. Albania became an atheist state, where it was forbidden to practise a religion. Nor was it permitted to own property; indeed, an Albanian could not even call a chicken or dog in his backyard his own.
3. The situation remained unchanged after the death of Enver Hoxha. Even the revolutions and developments in South-East Europe initially left Albania untouched. By the end of 1989, however, and particularly during the first months of 1990, there was unrest in the country, and President Alia was forced to commit himself to a policy of greater openness and reform.
4. General elections took place in Albania on 31 March, 7 and 14 April 1991. An information report on the elections was submitted to the Assembly by Mr Pfuhl and Mr Bowden, members of the ad hoc committee appointed by the Bureau to observe the elections (see Doc. 6406, Addendum II).
5. The Party of Labour, the former Communist Party, won approximately two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. The Democratic Party, led by Professor Sali Berisha, won around 30% of the votes cast. The Republican Party gained approximately 5% of the votes cast. The number of votes cast in favour of other smaller groupings, such as the Agrarian Party, was negligible. The Social Democratic Party of Albania did not take part in the first national elections.
6. Electoral observers all agreed that the Party of Labour's victory could be ascribed to massive pressure exerted by local party functionaries and to the continuing climate of fear within the country. Thus the elections signified only a first step towards democratisation, and were not yet the free elections of a viable multi-party liberal democracy.
7. Thus the elections gave the Party of Labour an absolute majority in the People's Assembly by a comfortable margin, but in view of the considerable unrest in the country the party proposed the formation of a "Government of National Unity" to the other parties. The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Social Democratic Party, which was not yet represented in Parliament, agreed to this proposal. Important ministerial posts, primarily economics and finance, were filled by members of the reform parties.
8. On 4 December 1991, the Democratic Party withdrew its seven Ministers from the coalition government, in which most of the posts were held by the Party of Labour. On 13 December, President Alia appointed a new government of technocrats.
9. New elections are scheduled for 1 March 1992. President Alia has announced that he would resign beforehand. This could be considered as a success for the Democratic Party and the independent trade union which in the last weeks have pushed for the earliest possible date for the elections. This would not be in the interest of the Party of Labour, however. The forthcoming elections are expected to result in victory for the new democratic parties, spelling the end of Communist rule.
10. Albania's economy is in a desperate state. The shift from a strict Communist command economy to democracy and a market economy has caused severe transitional problems and disruptions. Gross national product fell by 10% in 1990, and this trend has continued in 1991. Exploitation and processing of Albania's plentiful natural resources (chromium, nickel, oil), and light industry (textiles) are hampered by completely outdated plant and equipment and an inadequate transportation system. Even agricultural production has declined dramatically, with self-sufficiency reduced from 90% to 50%. Currently, only foreign food aid, mostly Italian, of about one million dollars per day, allows Albanians to survive.
11. Albania's political, economic and social situation has been discussed by the Assembly on a number of occasion (a list of adopted texts is appended). The most recent of these texts is Recommendation 1171 (1991), on the situation of hospitals in Albania: priority needs of the Paediatric Institute of Tirana, adopted on 25 November 1991.
12. Finally, to end this section, it must be noted that on the same day, the Bureau of the Assembly agreed to grant special guest status to the Albanian People's Assembly.
THE MASS EXODUS FROM ALBANIA
13. Albania's forty years of isolation from the rest of the world, combined with its disastrous economic, social and political situation, have had a traumatic effect on its citizens. They feel overwhelmed by hopelessness in the face of Albania's domestic situation, and although their knowledge of other countries is based solely on what they have heard, or seen on Italian television, they long for the opportunity to start a new life abroad.
14. This general mood became evident after mid-1990 when increasing numbers of asylum-seekers started to leave the country. Distressing images reminded the public in the rest of Europe of a part of the continent which they had forgotten existed.
15. In July 1990, Western embassies in Tirana were besieged by large numbers of Albanian nationals. Some 5 000 people sought to leave the country. Thanks to the mediation of international organisations, and after intensive negotiations, a large number of them managed to obtain visas and were granted political asylum in several European countries, particularly Germany, Italy and France. Some have apparently since returned to Albania.
16. At the end of 1990, some 3 000 Albanian nationals had arrived in Greece by crossing the border between the two countries without meeting any resistance from Albanian border guards. By mid-March 1991, 20 000 Albanians, many of them of Greek ethnic origin, were estimated to have entered Greece. Some of these Albanian nationals have applied to the Greek authorities for political asylum. However, interviews of asylum-seekers have shown clearly that the exodus was not politically motivated but directly linked to the difficult situation prevailing in Albania. The Greek authorities granted work permits to those who found a job and temporary residence permits to the others. Repatriation programmes for all those wishing to return voluntarily were carried out in close co-operation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
17. On 5 March 1991, a large number of Albanians gathered before the German, French, Greek and Italian Embassies in Tirana, where it was rumoured that visas were going to be distributed. The following day (according to various sources), several boats left the Albanian port of Durres with 20 000 Albanians on board.
18. On 7 March 1991, Albanian ships began arriving at ports in southern Italy (Brindisi, Bari, Otranto and Monopoli). In spite of the Italian authorities' public refusal to allow the Albanians to land, many managed to do so.
19. On the following day, 8 March 1991, hygiene on the boats had deteriorated to such an extent that landing was unavoidable. Crowds of Albanians settled on the quays of Italian ports to await aid which took several days to arrive, as the Italian authorities were overwhelmed by their sheer number.
20. The Italian authorities claim that 20 000 Albanians arrived in Italy between 7 and 10 March 1991. Negotiations between the authorities in Tirana and Rome subsequently brought the exodus to an end, and Italy has undertaken to discuss with Albania how to eliminate its root causes.
21. Also in March 1991, an undetermined number of Albanians of Serbian and Montenegrin origin attempted to enter Yugoslavia illegally.
22. In June 1991, the Albanian authorities requested the United Nations Development Programme to organise an interagency mission in order to undertake an assessment of Albania's urgent humanitarian needs. In the field of migration, the mission concluded that the great majority of Albanians who had left the country were seeking improved economic conditions and recommended to the Albanian government that it provide incentives so as to encourage Albanians to remain in their country.
23. During the first days of August 1991 thousands of Albanians reached the western port of Durres and the southern port of Vlora, in the hope of going on board ships that would take them to Italy.
24. The Albanian authorities tried in vain to prevent its citizens from leaving the country by putting the ports under military control and halting passenger trains.
25. On 8 August 1991 an estimated 10 000 Albanian nationals aboard several ships forced their way into the port of Bari in the south-east of Italy and approximately 1 000 into the port of Otranto. Moreover, 675 Albanians aboard two other ships who tried unsuccessfully to land at ports in Sicily, were diverged to Malta and later returned to Albania.
26. After several hours of waiting in the port of Bari, the Italian authorities allowed the Albanians to disembark for humanitarian reasons and led them to La Vittoria Sports Stadium. As the Italian authorities started forced repatriation using military transport planes and ferries, clashes broke out between policemen and Albanians. The Albanians barricaded themselves in the stadium refusing to return to their country; some 300 succeeded in escaping.
27. The Italian authorities offered the Albanians 50 000 lire (40 US dollars) each and new clothes if they would return home. As this offer did not attract the Albanians, forced repatriation continued.
28. At the same time the Italian Government increased its financial aid to Albania. Right after the repatriation operations food and emergency aid was sent to Albania. On 12 August 1991, the European Community announced an extra 2,3 million US dollars of emergency aid to be used to buy food and medicines.
29. The large majority of Albanians arriving in Italy were claiming to be looking for work and escaping the poor economic situation in their country. The failure to repatriate the 7 000 Albanians who arrived in March 1991 as well as rumours of an immigration agreement between Albania and Italy seemed to encourage this last flow.
30. All of Europe witnessed the dramatic scenes, captured on television news, showing the Albanians being expelled by Italian officials. Although repatriation was legally justified, the way in which the operation was conducted was problematic. The vast majority of the Albanians, according to their accounts of the exodus, fled their country because they felt "buried alive" there. They explained that when the news spread like wildfire that it was possible to leave Albania, lorries were seized in the ensuing rush, ships commandeered, and their crews forced to set sail. It was a form of mass psychosis. It is difficult to determine whether this psychosis was triggered deliberately; rumours suggest that this was the case, but there is no conclusive evidence to support this.
31. The Albanians' deportation from Italy was beset with problems, and on a number of occasions the police were deployed. The Albanians were particularly distressed to find that despite promises from the Italian authorities to allow some of them to travel to new homes in Italy, they were still sent straight back to Albania.
32. It should be noted, however, that the Italian authorities provided the Albanians with food, clothing and some money.
33. Although there was remarkable sympathy for the Albanians in Italy, the official Italian position was that these persons were seeking economic betterment in Italy and consequently could not be considered as political refugees.
34. From 15 to 17 August the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR sent a joint mission to Albania. It discussed with the Albanian authorities issues related to migration, such as:
- the continuation of voluntary return projects from neighbouring countries;
- the planned and orderly emigration of a small number of Albanians to work in industrialised countries;
- the implementation of an information project aimed at informing Albanians of the economic and social situation in neighbouring countries;
- the need to promote, in the mid-term, the reinsertion of returning Albanians, through appropriate vocational training before their return.
35. It must also be recalled that, at the request of the Italian authorities, IOM and UNHCR, in conjunction with the Italian Red Cross, established a programme of voluntary return. As at the end of August 1991, 1 130 Albanians had been assisted by IOM in their voluntary return. The programme was financed by the Italian Government.
36. By the end of December 1991 more than 200 000 Albanians were estimated to have left their country since the exodus began in July 1990. However, the UNHCR considers this figure could be substantially higher.
EUROPE'S RESPONSIBILITY AFTER THE MASS EXODUS
37. By ignoring Albania for decades the European states have played into the hands of the Albanian communists. Albania's economic plight alone cannot account for the huge numbers trying to flee the country. The exodus is a symbol of the Albanians' wish, as Europeans, to rejoin Europe and participate as free people in European life. They have a right to do so.
38. The people of Albania are young; their average age is 27 years. Albania needs its young people to rebuild the country. European aid programmes should aim to provide young Albanians with the opportunity to study abroad for a period of time, so that they can utilise their knowledge for the benefit of Albania on their return.
39. For Albania, a country where the process of democratisation has been under way for some months, this exodus, mainly of children and young men, constitutes a tremendous loss. Moreover, the fact that numerous young women have been abandoned in Albania leads to a more and more difficult situation.
40. The European states should provide humanitarian aid to alleviate the acute hardship suffered by the Albanian people, as well as economic aid programmes to assist long-term recovery.
41. The decision taken by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in December 1991, to open a special account for "Emergency aid to Albania", in addition to the assistance provided to Albania in the framework of the "Demosthenes programme" in the field of constitutional reform, media legislation, education, social affairs and local authorities, shows the way in which European solidarity could be proved.
42. Furthermore, the legal status of the Albanian nationals remaining in the various host countries has to be clearly defined. The term "refugees", used by the media, seems less and less appropriate.
43. The Assembly should call upon the governments of the member states:
i. to immediately strengthen humanitarian aid to overcome the current crisis in Albania;
ii. further to increase efforts to provide economic aid for Albania, with the aim of providing help for self-help;
iii. to prepare programmes providing professional training for Albanian nationals in European countries and facilitating their return to Albania;
iv. to make use of the Council of Europe Social Development Fund to finance these programmes;
v. to make funds available to Albania from the European Social Fund;
vi. to take all political measures needed to enable Albania to become a stabilising factor in the Balkan region.
44. Finally, the Assembly should ask the governments of the countries directly concerned by the arrival of Albanians:
i. to provide these people with adequate assistance and define their legal situation clearly;
ii. to submit schemes to the Council of Europe Social Development Fund which will help meet the needs of the Albanians living within their borders at the present time;
iii. to establish, in close co-operation with IOM and UNHCR, programmes of voluntary return.
A P P E N D I X
Texts concerning Albania adopted by the Assembly
Recommendation 1086 (1988) on the situation of the Church and freedom of religion in Eastern Europe (Doc. 5944)
Recommendation 1158 (1991) on security and co-operation in Europe (Doc. 6464)
Recommendation 1162 (1991) on the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to European culture (Doc. 6497)
Recommendation 1171 (1991) on the situation of hospitals in Albania: priority needs of the Paedriatic Institute of Tirana (Doc. 6522)
Resolution 908 (1988) on the situation of the Church and freedom of religion in Eastern Europe (Doc. 5944)
Resolution 970 (1991) on the situation in Albania (Doc. 6496)
Order 461 (1991) on the situation of hospitals in Albania (Docs. 6403 and 6426).
Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.
Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.
Reference to committee: Doc. 6432, Reference No. 1737 of 28 June 1991.
Draft recommendation: adopted by the committee on 21 January 1992 by 19 votes to 0 and 1 abstention.
Members of the committee: MM. Böhm (Chairman), Cucó, Tasçioglu (Alternate: Demiralp) (Vice-Chairmen), Mr Altug, Mrs Arnold, Mrs Astgeirsdottir, MM. Aylward, Biefnot, Brincat, Eisma, Mrs Ekman, MM. Fiorini, Flückiger, Foschi (Alternate: Parisi), Mrs Francese, MM. Fuhrmann, Ghalanos (Alternate: Matsis), Galley, Gassner, Grussenmeyer (Alternate: Worms), Mrs Hacklin, MM. de Hoop Scheffer, Huber (Alternate: Ruffy), Sir John Hunt, Mr Konen, Lord Mackie of Benshie, Mrs Mascher, MM. Mota Torres, Pahtas, Mrs Persson, MM. Sarafopoulos, Skaug, Mrs Sormova, Ms Szelényi, MM. Ternak, Uyttendaele, Vázquez, Vieira Mesquita.
N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are underlined.
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Sorinas and Mrs Ruotanen.