Citizens, refugees, migrants, it doesn’t matter, it seems that nobody sees a bright future in Albania.
Around 300BC nearly 6000 Illyrian fighters fled the country after the assassination of king Kliti by Alexander the Great. They migrated to a place called Qafiristan (today Nuristan) a point where Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan, are met. Their language is different from any of the countries near them and the historians found a link between this population of now nearly 50 thousand and Albanians (descendants of the Illyrians). This is one of the few historical aspects that connects Albania and Afghanistan. Over the last two decades Albania has sent some military missions in Afghanistan as part of its obligation as a NATO member.
On the other hand, Afghanistan was part of the chronicles and occasional news in the Albanian media, whenever there was an important development. Of course, the dose of coverage started to increase since 2020 when the US and the Taliban signed a peace agreement and later with the withdrawal announcement of US troops from Afghanistan. But now as everyone knows, things did not go as planned for the Afghan government after USA’s withdrawal and Afghanistan is under Taliban control. At this point, somehow the paths of Albania and Afghanistan crossed again. But the irony on this is that, where Afghans are searching refuge to survive from the Taliban regime, Albanians are trying to leave at all costs to their own country.
Albanians as usually learned from media reports that several thousand Afghans would come to Albania as political refugees as their lives were endangered by the new Taliban regime. The government had remained silent on the issue and the discussion had been developing underground. The rising public concern over the truth, obliged Prime Minister Edi Rama to give an official confirmation on August 15 stating that this was true. Public opinion was clearly divided in two groups. Those who supported this decision as an ally of NATO and the US, and those who saw this as a danger to the country, a perception that emanated from a lack of information about who these people were.
The Prime Minister explained that the political refugees were collaborators of the United States of America who had helped during 20 years to build a new state, with profiles such as academics, journalists, artists, students. In a series of appearances for the international and national media, the Prime Minister gave different numbers of refugees that Albania would expect, from 2 thousand to 4 thousand. In fact, so far Albania has hosted less than 644 political refugees from Afghanistan.
Afghans see Albania as a transit country
Albania's decision to accept Afghan refugees came at the request of the United States. Considering them an important ally that has contributed over the decades to maintain stability in the Balkans but also as a country close to Albania on important issues, the agreement has been immediate. Albania will serve as a transit country for immigrants from Afghanistan until they are fully scanned and provided with US passports.
The Albanian government on August 25 set up a dedicated Task Force part of which are 7 ministries which will function as a special temporary structure that will manage the flow of requests for international protection for Afghan citizens. The refugees have been granted temporary protection for a period of 1 year.
Only two days later, August 27, the first Afghans would arrive, and the group included elderly, women, children and babies. Gradually their number increased with some other flights but the total till now remains less than 700. They are located in several touristic accommodation structures (hotels) in the area of Durres and Shengjin, trying to get used to this new situation they face.
Prime Minister Edi Rama and Mayor Erion Veliaj have underlined in some of their appearances that Afghans who arrived in Albania can stay beyond the 1-year deadline, even permanently if they see it as a possibility. But regardless of these declarations, in some interviews given to the media in Albania, Afghans have made it clear that the United States of America, United Kingdom or Europe are the places they see as final destination for their future. Studying in these countries for the Afghan students is seen as a better opportunity.
Even Bangladesh citizens don’t see a present, nor future in Albania
Local businesses have been complaining for several years that high emigration is making it difficult to find workers. They are mainly businesses that need a large number of employees (clothing manufacturing). But as this problem was becoming evident year after year in March 2021 the Prime Minister came up with a "magic" solution. He proposed to businesses to hire employees from other countries and Bangladesh was one of them. Some of the businesses took this suggestion into account and several dozen businesses started researching through dedicated agencies.
Source: linkedin.com: Tirana International Airport
For workers from Bangladesh, a country of 163 million inhabitants and a per capita income less than that of Albania, emigration for work is a tempting alternative. Earlier, the government had made some changes to the law on foreigners by facilitating the procedures for residence or employment in Albania. The arrival of foreign workers seemed to pave the way for a practice that would put an end to the concern about labor shortages. But all of a sudden, the works from Bangladesh have disappeared from their working places.
There are at least 50 citizens who were not found in the workplace by the police after routine controls at the businesses that had employed them. According to preliminary data, it is thought that these citizens have used their employment contracts in Albania to leave and go to European Union countries. It is currently unclear whether this is an isolated case or a scheme. In the end, it seems that even employees from poorer countries than Albania do not see a future here even when they are offered a secure job.
Albanians continue to flee, 80 percent of students want to leave
When the world was down on its knees from the COVID-19 pandemic and most countries closed their borders in an attempt to control the virus, Albanians managed to find space to take another first place on emigration. The United Nations report confirmed that in 2020 Albanians have experienced the largest increase in emigration. The average number of refugees in 2020 was over 550 per 100 000 inhabitants for Albania, a significantly increasing trend compared to 2015 when the same figures were compared and the level was around 350 per 100 000 inhabitants.
Emigration has been present for decades and is a phenomenon that affects almost all countries but in Albania this trend is always increasing. The World Bank just a few years ago alerted that the brain drain is at an alarming level. At least 40 percent of immigrants have higher education according to this institution. Hemorrhage of this group is especially evident in sectors such as medicine and IT.
The emigration of the general labor force that finds no space in the domestic market is also ongoing. The last ones who seem to be increasingly supporting the idea of leaving Albania are the students. A survey by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies concluded that 80% of Albanian students want to leave the country while 95% of young people leaving for studies abroad do not want to return to their country. On the other hand, 60% of graduates are planning to leave Albania. When we say students and graduate, we immediately link these with the future. What is leaving Albania is the future. So, can a country without future give hope?
Why does everyone want to leave Albania?
Just a few days ago, the new government "Rama 3" made public the new economic program that will be implemented in the next 4 years. As you read the promises in this 42-page book, you have an impression that Albania is a paradise on earth. What is missing there is the argument of how this will be achieved. It promises salary increases for the administration, fairer taxation for employees, relief for businesses, infrastructure projects such as ports, airports, roads. They promise to make Albania an energy superpower even though we have been hearing this promise for two decades while Albanians pay increasing energy prices (185 euro per MWh). Flour and all its derivates saw a price spike just some days ago.
In Albania, where the reconstruction process from the earthquake of November 26, 2019 is under development, and the effects of the pandemic are still high as in every country around the world, the promises for a flourishing 4-year term should be seen with more reservations. To gain trust and give hope the government has to show by facts and numbers how it will achieve this ambitious plan during this third term.
Stopping the hemorrhage
The world had enough problems even before COVID-19 but it seems that this pandemic made people more aware on the importance to have an accountable state. One that is near in times of difficulty, which provides for you and makes sure that the minimal needs of everyone are fulfilled. So, what Albania needs today is a realistic, achievable and trusting program. Not an economic program for current public consumption.
If we have a program that addresses the real challenges that society faces such as improving the education and health system, employment, decent treatment of the citizens in need, perhaps Albania would not look like a ship that everyone (even those in transit) tries to abandon in one form or another. It is up to the captain (government) to give confidence that despite the difficulties encountered, on the way we will be able to get safely to the destination and maybe instead of leaving, the government would receive a helping hand. If the orientation will be same as that of the last 8 years, the only ones who will remain on this ship will be those who have no chance of leaving.
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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Communication Studies or the donor.