Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thu, 13 Aug 1998 06:53:56 -0700 (PDT)
Ethnic Albanians find back door to Western Europe
By Paul Iredale
VLORE, Albania, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Ethnic Albanian refugees
fleeing the fighting in Kosovo appear to have discovered a back
door to reach their kin in the Albanian communities of Germany
and Switzerland -- by speedboat over the Adriatic.
Smugglers in the port of Vlore say ethnic Albanians from
Kosovo and Montenegro have replaced Albanian nationals as their
main clients for the two to three hour trip to the southern
Aid agencies say up to 300,000 ethnic Albanians have been
displaced in the Serb province of Kosovo, where Serb troops have
launched an offensive against separatist Kosovo Liberation Army
Refugee agencies say at least 12,000 ethnic Albanians have
crossed the border but only 7,000 remain in the north of
Although there is no independent confirmation, the smugglers
say up to 400 ethnic Albanians a day are making the crossing to
Italy, and most of them are getting through.
Last week Italy sent back 40 ethnic Albanians caught on the
shores of its Puglia region.
``Most of them are heading for Germany and Switzerland,'' a
bronzed smuggler, wearing heavy gold chains around his neck and
wrist, told Reuters.
In a makeshift marina behind him, 10 inflatable boats were
moored, each with a powerful pair of 200 to 250 horsepower
outboard engines. Another dozen outboards, which the smugglers
say cost about $35,000 apiece, were moored throughout the bay.
Vlore has long been a centre for smuggling migrants into
Western Europe, and locals say that much of the wealth in the
town comes from the trade.
In the past, they have seen waves of Kurds, Asians and
Albanian nationals pass through the port. But now, locals say,
most of those who make the crossing are ethnic Albanians.
``They dont spend much here. They order two soups and lots
of bread,'' remarked a local restaurant owner.
The smuggler, who did not give his name, said the
inflatables carried about 30 people on each crossing, most of
which were at night.
``We get them to lie down in the boat,'' he said. ``In a
good sea you can get there and back in three hours, but if its
rough it can take four hours or more,'' he said.
Another young smuggler at the marina said they charged
around 400 German marks ($225) a head for the trip, although
most of the refugees organised their passage through an
intermediary, who charged around 4,000 marks to get them from
the Albanian border to their eventual destination in Germany or
As he spoke, an Italian coastguard vessel cruised about a
mile offshore, ready to try to intercept speedboats making the
52-mile (84 km) run across the Adriatic.
The smuggler said the Italians used three coastguard vessels
to patrol off the Albanian coast, but they had become more
cautious since a collision last year with a boat carrying
Albanian immigrants from Vlore, in which some 80 people drowned.
``Its like a game of cat and mouse, but really they are no
match for us. We can turn much faster and move much faster than
they can,'' he said.
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