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Saturday, March 27, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT

World: Europe

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.

Kosovo: Special Report
It is difficult for immigration officers to know who they are dealing with because many refugees arrive without documents.

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.

Fraught history

[ image: Italy is making preparations for up to 40,000 refugees]
Italy is making preparations for up to 40,000 refugees
Historically there is little love lost between Italians and Albanians and in this poor, rural part of southern Italy which politically is right-wing, the presence of so many refugees is widely resented.

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.

Perilous journey

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.

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