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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK

Analysis: The impact on Albania

Kosovo Albanians flee into Albania

By South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The surge of refugees arriving in the wake of Nato bombing in Serbia is the second time in less than a year that Albania has had to cope with a wave of refugees.

Last June about 12,000 Kosovo Albanians fled to Albania.

Kosovo: Special Report
Western countries responded by imposing a number of economic sanctions on Serbia and threatened possible Nato air strikes.

This time, the influx of Kosovar Albanians is on an incomparably bigger scale - tens of thousands in a matter of days.

The BBC's Matt Frei reports from Albania's border with Kosovo, now one of the most dangerous in the world
Diplomatic persuasion, economic pressure and now Nato air strikes have failed so far to persuade Belgrade to change its policies.

The arrival of huge numbers of refugees is placing enormous strains on Albania.

Europe's poorest state

It has long been regarded as Europe's poorest state and cannot even provide for its own population.

[ image: The refugee crisis may have a big economic impact on Europe's poorest state]
The refugee crisis may have a big economic impact on Europe's poorest state
About a quarter of Albania's workforce is employed abroad, primarily in Greece and Italy.

Albania simply lacks the financial resources to cope with the exodus from Kosovo which would be a severe burden on the economies of much more prosperous countries.

So how is the Tirana government dealing with the refugees?

Sokol Gjoka, foreign ministry spokesman, says the government has created accommodation centres for the refugees and is working with international aid agencies.

It has already taken measures to provide food in the initial months to the northern part of Albania and is looking long-term into ways of transferring some refugees to other parts of western Europe.


The country has still not recovered in full from the uprising against then President Sali Berisha's administration two years ago.

There is a lack of security in several areas of the country where the government has little control.

Instead, armed gangs - many of them with weapons looted during the events of 1997 - continue to hold sway.

The additional impact of the arrival of large numbers of desperate and dispossessed refugees could create a huge law and order problem.

In one important respect, though, Albania now seems more able to stand up to the challenge now facing it than it was a few months ago.

Ex-President Berisha's Democratic Party - now in opposition - has called off its campaign of street protests against the socialist-led coalition, thereby helping to stabilise the country.

Kosovo: Special Report
The opposition protests culminated in violent anti-government riots in September which involved some Kosovo Albanians who felt that Prime Minister Fatos Nano was not doing enough to help their cause.


The riots contributed to Mr Nano's resignation. His replacement, Pandeli Majko, has found it easier to establish a dialogue with Mr Berisha.

[ image: Pandeli Majko and opposition parties have reached a consensus over the refugees]
Pandeli Majko and opposition parties have reached a consensus over the refugees
And the new prime minister has also adopted a firmer line on Kosovo.

That makes it more difficult for the opposition Democratic Party to denounce the government on grounds of weakness.

Leonard Demi, the Democratic Party's international secretary, said: "I think the present government is doing quite enough to help them [the Kosovo Albanians] and we take a similar position to the government now.

"We were very hard on the previous socialist government regarding Kosovo because it had three different positions: one from the ministry of foreign affairs, one from the prime minister and one from the president.

"It was very confused, but now Majko's position is almost the same as ours regarding a solution of the situation."

Just as Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia have helped create greater national unity around the Serbian leadership, the plight of Kosovo Albanians has brought a degree of cohesion in Albania.

Ordinary people are welcoming the refugees into their homes, and politicians have, for the moment, given up bickering over policy on Kosovo.

But the influx of refugees remains a serious problem.

Policy on Kosovo

As for Kosovo itself, although in 1991 Albania recognised the Kosovar Albanians' proclamation of independence from Serbia, the government has not backed the demand for Kosovo's outright independence.

Instead, its approach has been in tune with mainstream Western proposals for granting a high degree of self-government for Kosovar Albanians within Yugoslavia.

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