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Historical Developments of Migration | Albania |

Albania Background Information Historical Developments Key Stages Characteristics of Current Migration Flows Irregular Emigration Refugees and Asylum Seekers Immigration since 1990 Irregular Immigrants Refugees and Asylum Seekers Development of Migration-Related Policies Citizenship Current Developments Future Challenges References and Further Reading

Historical Developments of Migration

Julie Vullnetari

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Migration under Ottoman rule

The earliest mass migration in the collective memory of Albanians took place in the second half of the 15th century, following the death of Albania's national hero, Scanderbeg, in 1467 and the beginning of the Ottoman conquest. Five centuries under Ottoman rule were accompanied by further emigration. Many Albanian men fled to escape blood feuds, local lords or the Ottoman persecution; yet others simply emigrated to escape poverty or to work in various trades and professions. This emigration is known in the Albanian history and collective memory as kurbet, referring to the act of going away and being distant in a foreign land, usually for work.

Transatlantic migrations

At the turn of the 20th century, Albanians became (a very small) part of the transatlantic migrations from Southern Europe. Some of them were refugees who fled the bloodshed that resulted from the Balkan Wars and the two World Wars. Others sought to improve their life by emigrating for work in the rapidly expanding industrial cities of North America and the agricultural industries of Australia. Labor migrants were in the majority men and after the 1930s some women followed. Most of them originated from south and south-east Albania.

As a result of these historical migrations, significant communities of Albanians formed in Greece, Italy, Romania, Egypt, Turkey and the US. Of particular significance are the Arbëresh communities in the South of Italy and Sicily who have preserved their language and customs after more than five centuries.

The communist years (1945-1990)

Albania emerged from World War II an economically devastated country. At the end of November 1944 a communist regime came to power in Albania. During nearly half a century of communist rule emigration abroad without authorization was banned and severely punished. Only a trickle of people managed to escape during those years, settling mainly in the USA.

Movements within the country were, likewise, tightly controlled and sanctioned only as part of the planned economy. As far as immigration was concerned, it was also almost non-existent during those years since all aliens, especially those from the UK and the USA, were viewed with suspicion. Only certain categories of visitors were allowed to settle for a fixed period of time, such as selected lecturers teaching at Tirana's university, members of the sister Marxist-Leninist parties, or students from friendly countries and those of Albanian origin (such as from Kosovo).

Emigration since 1990

Albania emerged from 45 years of communism with a third of its population under 15 years of age, suffering high unemployment and in dire poverty. The latter two problems would escalate in the early 1990s as the closure of industries and rural cooperatives led to mass unemployment, while 'shock therapy' of economic reform meant that prices and inflation shot upwards almost overnight. Desperate Albanians rushed towards the coastal cities of Durrës and Vlorë in the hope of boarding one of the ships leaving for Italy, while many more walked in droves over the mountains to Greece. The scale of this exodus is not easily quantifiable as most migrants were irregular and there was much to-and-fro, especially with Greece. Table 1 provides a snapshot of numbers and destination countries compiled from data made available by the Albanian Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (MoLSAEO) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI), at three key moments of the past two decades. Table 2 draws on data from key host countries themselves.

Table 1: Estimates of Albanians living abroad: 1999, 2005 and 2010

Country 1999% 2005 % 2010 %
Greece 500,00067.3600,00054.9750,00044.0
Italy 200,00027.0250,00022.9450,00026.4
USA 12,0001.6150,00013.7400,00023.5
UK 5,0000.750,0004.650,0002.9
Germany 12,0001.615,0001.415,0000.9
Canada 5,0000.711,5001.015,5000.9
Belgium 2,500<0.35,0000.55,0000.3
Turkey 2,000>0.35,0000.55,0000.3
France 2,000>0.32,0000.210,0000.6
Australia 2,000>0.32,0000.22,5000.2
Switzerland 1,000<0.11,500<0.11,500<0.1
Netherlands n.a.n.a.1,000<0.11,000<0.1
Total 743,500 100 1,093,000 100 1,705,500 100

Sources: 1999: Barjaba (2000); 2005: GoA (2005, p. 36); 2010: NID (2010, pp. 7-8)

Table 2: Estimates of Albanians living in key host countries, 1998-2010

Country Number Female % Year Source
Greece 368,26940.02010Valid residence permits, March
185,000n.a.2008Ethnic Greek Albanian citizens with long-term residence permits (not included above)
32,89245.82010Stock of naturalized Albanian citizens (1998-2010)
Italy 483,21945.62011Valid residence permits, 1 January
24,02848.52010Stock of naturalized Albanian citizens (1998-2010)
USA 113,661n.a.2000Stock of Albanians by ethnicity, US Census
201,000n.a.2008Stock of Albanians by ancestry, 2008
American Community Survey
80,360n.a.2011Stock of Albanians with legal permanent resident status by country of birth (1990-2011)
UK 13,477n.a.2011Stock of Albanians by ethnicity, UK Census
(England & Wales only)
32,425n.a.2011Stock of Albanians by language, UK Census
(England & Wales only)
7,236n.a.2010Stock of naturalized Albanian citizens (1998-2010)
Canada 25,000n.a.2011Stock of Albanians by language, Canadian Census

GR: Data of the Greek Ministry of the Interior in Maroukis and Gemi (2010: 13, 15, 16); IT: ISTAT database available online at Externer Link:, retrieved 31 January 2013;
USA: US Census Bureau, Externer Link:;
UK: 2011 Census data tables 'QS211EW ethnic group' and 'QS204EW main language' available online at: Externer Link:, retrieved: 31 January 2013;
Canada: 2011 Canadian Census online at: Externer Link:, last updated: 09 January 2013, retrieved 31 January 2013;
data on naturalizations in Greece, Italy and the UK: Eurostat statistics 'Acquisition of citizenship by former citizenship' available online at: Externer Link:, last updated: 22 August 2012, extracted: 31 January 2013.

Although the number of emigrants presented in Table 1 seems relatively small, their significance becomes clear when we put them in a comparative perspective. World Bank data ranks Albania ninth in the list of top-10 countries of emigration in the world, in terms of relative scale of emigration, i.e. as a percentage of the population living in the source country; by 2010 more than 1.4 million Albanians had emigrated and lived abroad, equivalent to almost half (45.4 percent) of the country's resident population.

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Julie Vullnetari is post-doctoral researcher at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research, School of Global Studies of the University of Sussex in the UK. Email: E-Mail Link: