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Albanian Refugees and Asylum Seekers | 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

Albanian Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Julie Vullnetari

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During the communist years almost all emigrants who managed to escape Albania were granted refugee status in the countries they settled. Yet, after the multi-party elections of March 1991, which saw the opposition Democratic Party as the clear winner, host governments' attitudes changed rapidly and Albanians were increasingly considered as economic migrants. For example, Italy accepted as political refugees the 25,000 Albanians who landed in Apulia in the March 1991 boat exodus, but refused the 20,000 or so who reached its shores in August of the same year considering them as economic migrants on the grounds that Albania was now a 'democratic country'.

Throughout the last two post-communist decades legal migration channels to the EU and other industrialized countries remained closed for the vast majority of ordinary Albanians. As such, seeking asylum was one of the few options available for those wanting to escape life in Albania. Many had clear reasons for doing so ranging from escaping blood feuds, human traffickers, homophobia, gender-based violence, to ethnically-based persecution (Romani) or politically-motivated elimination. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates just under 180,000 Albanians (179,805) were recognized as refugees between 1990 and 2010.

Table 5: Albanian refugees by host country, 1996-2005, top five asylum destinations

Country Number %
USA 34,39442
Germany 8,64211
France 8,22110
Canada 8,10910
UK 4,9626
Other 17,23921
Total 81,567 100

Source: UNHCR (2005)

The visa-free travel to the Schengen area for holders of Albanian biometric passports, which came into effect in December 2010, has given rise to another wave of asylum claims in these countries. In 2012 alone, the number of asylum applications from Albanian citizens stood at more than 5,000. However, the vast majority of these have been refused as unfounded and Albania's Chief of Police has vowed to penalize all those 'abusing' the visa-free and asylum system, declaring that the police has files on all returnees.

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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: