Albania: Jobless Flock to Riveria

The country's fledgling tourist industry is being bolstered by the influx of impoverished northerners.

Albania: Jobless Flock to Riveria

The country's fledgling tourist industry is being bolstered by the influx of impoverished northerners.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Families seeking to escape poverty in the remote north are boosting the tourist industry in the southern Riviera.

Over the last decade, around 200 families have left decimated mining districts in the north, such as Kukes, Has, Diber, Mirdite and Lezhe, in search of work in the southern 150-kilometre long Albanian Riviera.

Rumours of north-south rivalries have been scotched by the warm welcome the newcomers receive - with many being given the use of houses left by people who've emigrated to Greece.

"It's enough they take care of my home because there should be someone there to look after it," said Koço Dhimitri, an emigrant who comes back each summer to open up his bar in the Riviera town of Himare.

There is no sign of the friction that sometimes accompanies internal migration. "If there is any quarrel, it does not happen with the newcomers from the north but from the people coming from Vlore for a vacation here," said another Vlore resident, who has built a hotel in Himare.

After the fall of communism, a large number of Albanians rushed abroad, legally or illegally, many of them from the Riviera.

About half a million Albanian migrants live in Greece - the most popular destination - whose remittances boost investment in the Riveria area.

"There is much construction along the Ionian coastline, bars, restaurants, motels, roads," said Himare mayor Viktor Mato. "Consequently there is a need for working people."

Indeed, the newcomers mainly work in construction and have built nearly all the new bars that are springing up from Sarande to Butrint.

Originally from Peshkopia in the north-eastern Diber district, Bekim, who did not want to give his full name, has operated a refrigerator repair van in the area for the last five summers. "The summer months are good for me. People want to rent out their properties - and this provides a lot of work," he told IWPR.

Local attitudes to the newcomers appear fairly relaxed. Agim Shorti, who works at the local Butrint museum, said, "There is enough work for everyone", adding that the jobs go to those who have the best skills, regardless of where they come from.

Museum head Auron Tare has employed 35 of the newcomers at the area's UNESCO-recognised archaeological site, to act as guards, cleaners and help in the restoration and maintenance of the castle and its amphitheatre.

Tare describes the northerners as good, hard working people. "They should feel themselves at home because they take care of Butrint. It has visitors only in summer and in winter they are the guards of this museum," he said.

One group of Catholic families from the north has even created a new village called Shendelli, beside the 28 km-long Butrint Lake.

Tare added that with the help of a Japanese grant, they have built an elementary school that's one of the best in the area.

Life may not always be easy for the newcomers, but they are slowly turning their quest for a better life into reality.

Denisa Xhoga is an editor with the Albanian Shekullli newspaper.

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