Albania divided over welcoming Afghan refugees to the United States | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW
The Albanian coastline is full of domestic and foreign tourists who are finishing their summer vacations. But the coastal town of Durres is not just a holiday resort. It is also a temporary home for hundreds of Afghan refugees.
Places are reserved for them in several hotels. We would like to talk to the refugees, but we are turned away by the local police guarding the entrance to the hotel. “They are in quarantine. The press is not allowed here,” they tell us. Through the gate, we watch a few children playing happily in the hotel pool. Just a few days ago, these evacuees lived the agony of leaving their homeland.
Journalists not welcome in temporary refugee hostels
Meanwhile, in Tirana, some Albanian students have been urged to leave their dormitories to make room for the Afghan refugees who are being placed in the capital. Two weeks ago, Albania agreed to take in at least 4,000 Afghan refugees.
“Temporarily,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said at the time.
It’s a word that’s been used a lot lately. And the more it is used, the more people wonder about it. “Who knows how long the Afghan refugees will actually stay? a man asks us, shaking his head in disbelief. “We have an economy where people beg, we have to look in the trash for bread, you know?”
A duty to help
Others in the streets of Tirana say that Albania, which is a member of NATO, has a duty to help its ally, the United States. The Biden administration has asked Rama to take in Afghan refugees until they are vetted and approved for US visas.
“It can take up to a year,” said Alban Dafa, security researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation in Tirana. “But the government did not provide enough information on the whole process.” He fears that the situation will lead to a growing rejection of Afghan evacuees among the Albanian population, and he also wonders what will happen to those who are not allowed to travel to the United States – “those refugees who are going to be stranded in Albania. “
A safe place
At least 600 Afghans have arrived in Albania so far. Khanbic Sadiq, who arrived in Tirana from Kabul, is one of them. The 22-year-old may not be aware that his arrival and that of the other refugees has become a political issue here: he is just relieved to be in a safe place for the time being.
Khanbic Sadiq, 22, has just arrived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, from Kabul
When he found out he was going to Albania, he searched the Internet, he says with a smile. “I looked: where is it? Which countries are the neighbors? After telling my family that Albania is a very good country,” he says using all the English words he knows. .
The United States: a partner for progress
It seems quite logical that Albania has accepted the American request to take in Afghan refugees. The United States helps maintain stability in the Balkans, which itself has a long history of wars. Various streets here are named after former US presidents. The image of the United States as a partner in progress runs deep in people’s minds, whether or not there is real progress.
But Albania struggles to create prospects for its own citizens and is often plagued by internal tensions between the re-elected Rama government and the opposition. It is a country marked by corruption, poverty and the lack of solutions.
At least a year to allow Afghan citizens to obtain US visas
While domestic and international analysts are busy pondering what the US-Albanian agreement to welcome refugees will actually mean, it seems very ironic to see a replica of the Statue of Liberty for sale on a road near Tirana. “For 10,000 € ($ 12,000) the statue is yours,” says the vendor – a fortune, when you consider that Albanian citizens earn an average of € 400 per month, let alone in rural areas.
A replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tirana
Khanbic Sadiq hopes to be able to move to the United States soon. After all, that’s what everyone here is promised. “They have to take us to another country, to the United States,” he said. Once there, he wants to continue his engineering studies. Although “Albania is a great country. For education, the United States is better, ”he says.
It is currently unknown which Afghans will reach their destination and when. The verification process for the United States has not yet started. The United States is currently focusing on placing thousands of Afghan refugees in Balkan “transit countries”: Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia. The rest will be political, taking place here in the Balkan region.