Saturday, March 27, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT
Italy prepares for refugee onslaught
Italy may send ships to Vlora to ensure safe passage for refugees
By Joe Paley at Gioia del Colle airbase, southern Italy
This region is already home to thousands of Albanians who have arrived here over the years for one reason or another.
They have been living in camps near the Adriatic ports of Bari and Brindisi.
The Italian authorities regularly repatriate those whom they believe to be economic migrants who may be seeking a better life, but who are in no danger in their own countries.
If they are Albanians from Kosovo the authorities are more accommodating. Add to all this the many refugees recently arrived from Kurdistan and the prospect of thousands more fleeing from the Serbs and that is the extent of Italy's headache.
Even so Italy has not avoided the challenge. Under the direction of a special commissioner it has set up camps for the immediate reception of 8,000 people and says it will shortly be able to offer shelter to 40,000 in all.
Existing refugees have been moved further south to make room for the new arrivals.
Getting to here from Albania can be expensive and dangerous. Albanian gangsters have been charging $1,000 for the sea crossing and that is beyond the reach of those who are not fortunate enough to have relatives abroad to help.
For this reason the Italian navy may send ships to the Albanian port of Vlora to make sure that the search for sanctuary is at least safe and free.
In return for its public acceptance of the inevitable, the Rome government has reminded its European partners that they must help to bear the cost and must be prepared to take their share of refugees.