Albanian refugees get a taste of capitalism

July 31, 1991

By Michael Karadjis

ATHENS — "Greek brothers we need your solidarity. We are homeless, hungry and penniless", read a banner at a demonstration in May of Albanian and Northern Epirotes (Albanians of Greek descent) refugees.

The refugees fled Albania hoping for a better life in capitalist Greece. They were encouraged by the Greek government to "break their chains" and come to Greece where they could be reunited with their "brothers".

The official Greek response to the demonstration came one week later, when riot police descended on the area of Omonia Square, arresting all the refugees.

According to an agreement between Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, and Albanian leader Alia, most of the refugees were then sent back to Albania. A list of those who had fled was given to Albanian authorities by the Greeks.

The North Epirotes were free to remain in Greece, but lost their homes and farms in Albania.

So ended five months of "freedom" in the paradise of capitalist Greece. Conditions for the refugees were appalling. They slept in subways, parks, deserted cars or simply on the streets of Athens.

Their labour was ruthlessly exploited. Those who could find work started at 6 a.m., doing back-breaking work all day with none of the

rights or protection afforded Greek workers. "I've been here for seven months. I haven't got a cent. I worked for 15 days and I got less than 10,000 drachmas", (about A$70) said one refugee.

Greek trade unions ignored the plight of the Albanian workers.

Living conditions were hard in Albania, but at least there the refugees had some security. They demanded that the Greek government provide them with homes and work they had left behind in Albania. Perhaps they didn't realise that in a free market country, even basic needs aren't provided.

Faced with this hopeless situation, many of the refugees turned to petty theft. This caused a racist backlash. Every crime was blamed on the Albanians.

The Gulf War brought a resurgence of Turkish-Greek rivalry, and Albanians were encouraged to migrate in order to boost Greece's position in the region.

The hungry and desperate refugees sleeping on the streets of Athens were simply pawns in one of the many regional squabbles of the New World Order.

Issue