human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Message from Korça, Southern Albania

A migrant's journey

Many people try to reach Europe by sea, many travel by road cramped in lorries, others walk for days and cross mountains by foot. Among these people, Ahmad*, a young Syrian. He crossed the mountains from Greece into Albania with his cousin to “go to Europe”.  One may wonder what happened in Greece, EU member country. It was not what they were looking for. Ahmad wants to move on, travel through Albania, Montenegro and Croatia, to Italy, or Germany

We may think that the flow of migrants has slowed down, but actually, there is a new peak in people crossing the Greek border into Albania. Last week alone, there were around 90 people per day intercepted by the Albanian Border and Migration Police (BMP).

Once picked up by the BMP the migrants are screened: their identity and place of origin are checked, their fingerprints taken. They are asked what they want to do in Albania. Seek asylum?  People who do not want to seek asylum in Albania or people who come from places where there is no clear threat to their safety are pushed back to Greece and are asked to never come back again.     Others are transported to the Migrant Centres in Tirana where they can wait for their request for asylum to be treated.

Once this first screening has been done, the BMP has no resources to provide for anything else. No shelter, no food, no sanitary and/or other non-food support. Nor can they arrange for the transportation to Tirana.

This is where Caritas Albania comes in. Under the UNHCR financed “Border monitoring and support to asylum seekers arriving in Albania” programme, Caritas Albania renovated the border house where the screening is done, and equipped and furnished the facility allowing migrants shelter for a night.

Five Caritas staff are now active at this Korça border point. Two people accompany the migrants and take care of all their needs: food and non-food items and transportation to the centres in Tirana; a local Mufti supports the police with the translation Arabic-Albanian (and vice-versa) during interviews; there is an ombudsman who receives any negative feedback from migrants; and one person keeps the facility clean.

In discussions with the MBP’s regional and national directors it was repeatedly said that without Caritas Albania’s support and dedication, it would simply not be possible to deal with the migrants in a dignified way. Moreover, in the aftermath of the November earthquake the border police’s budget has been cut, so the need for Caritas’ support will definitely not stop for the time being!

UNHCR staff at the border point are just as laudable about the cooperation with Caritas Albania: “They provide excellent services, we have a great partnership”!

Let’s hope that Ahmad and his cousin did not mention that they want to travel on to Northern Europe in their screening interview.  If they did, they are probably on their way back through the mountains, to Greece.

*names have been changed