human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas at the border

Caritas Albania's work with migrants

Albania has been a transit country for refugees and migrants since 2015, and more recently, a country of destination for asylum-seekers. In 2019, the situation remains much the same.  In April 2016 an agreement between the European Union and Turkey came into force. The agreement aimed at curbing the flow of refugees who tried to cross the Aegean Sea by returning to Turkey  “irregular” migrants who had just landed in Greece. News of this deal spurred on neighbouring countries to close their borders in an attempt to prevent continued movement into Europe. With the closure of this corridor, Albanian territory became a primary transit route for asylum seekers crossing from Greece, hoping to make it to the EU. Caritas Albania, in partnership with UNHCR, has played a crucial role in ensuring access to asylum for refugees, provision of basic aid, and enhancing the coordination with the Border and Migration Police (BMP), and other local structures responsible for protection services for migrants. Caritas Albania has established an effective partnership with the BMP at the southern border crossing point (BCP) with Greece and the northern BCPs with Montenegro and Kosovo. Caritas has been able to provide food packages and monitor the treatment of migrants when they arrive at the southern BCP since 2015 and expanded border monitoring and emergency response to the northern BCPs in 2017.

The Albanian Government’s approach has become more positive toward aid agencies since 2015. Refugees continue to arrive in Albania and the state authorities don’t have the financial and human resources to handle this situation. Some of the migrants arriving in Albania recounted many of the difficulties they faced on their journey. When apprehended by the BMP officers, most of them were in bad health conditions and were exhausted after days of walking. Assistance with food and non-food items provided by Caritas Albania was vital as the BMP does not ensure the provision of basic assistance for arrivals as they don’t have a budget for it.

A large number of migrants cross the border from Greece to Albania

The Albanian BMP identified more than 3,500 persons entering Albania as migrants between October 2018 and April 2019 (the period covered by the project with Caritas Europa). The regions of Gjirokastra and Korça on the border with Greece are the main entrance points where people of concern are intercepted by the BMP authorities trying to cross via the green border (unofficial border points). At a national level, October 2018 was the month with the highest number of refugees recorded, with 628 persons identified at the borders and in Albanian territory. There was a slight decrease during November, December, and January. From February to April, the influx reached an average of 600 persons per month. Albania lacks the necessary capacity to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers and to provide them with basic services such as food, health care, social services, housing, employment, etc. The local Caritas staff has been ready to assist newly arrived migrants at all times and has always been present when informed or requested by Police officers.

Two big activities were conducted with asylum-seekers in the National Reception Centre in Babrru. The first activity was organized in March 2019 in the frame of the “Share the Journey” Campaign. The activity was organized by Caritas Albania with the presence of the Directorate for Asylum from the Interior Ministry, and UNHCR. A group of animators were present who conducted different games for the children. They also organised chess tournaments, as well as tennis and football matches for children and adults. There was food catering and a welcome speech from the Director of the Centre.

Caritas Albania in collaboration with UNHCR maintained a presence, and monitored the borders with a focus on strengthening the capacity of national authorities, local actors and civil society to uphold refugee rights and provide robust case management. During this period the number of persons identified at the borders increased significantly compared to the summer period. More than 500 persons are identified by Border and Migration Police and supported by Caritas Albania staff each week. The persons with medical needs have been identified by Caritas staff and the police authorities have been pushed to send some specific cases to hospitals. Regional hospitals have responded for every case that has been sent and Caritas has supported them with medical items when they could not be provided there. We have noted an increased in the number of migrants identified at Kukës (the border with Kosovo). The field coordinator of Gjirokastra during this period has been sent to Korca to support the field coordinator and BMP in Korca region. The situation changes every day and Caritas should be prepared to respond as needed anytime.