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Italy Says it Will Send Back Thousands of Fleeing Albanians With PM-Albania-What Next?, Bjt

March 8, 1991

BRINDISI, Italy (AP) _ The Italian government announced today that thousands of Albanian refugees who have arrived by boat in southern Italy will be sent back because they are economic and not political refugees.

A top aide to Premier Giulio Andreotti said that Albanians who do not qualify for political asylum will be subject to strict immigration laws. The aide, Nino Cristofori spoke after a Cabinet meeting today.

Italian officials said most of the Albanians are fleeing the Communist country’s battered economy and not political persecution. Albania is Europe’s poorest nation and last hard-line Communist regime.

Under Italian law, immigrants face expulsion if they can not prove they have a permanent job and place to stay in Italy.

Government spokesman Pio Mastrobuoni said, however, that no immediate decision has been made on how and when Albanians would be repatriated. But he said the operation might be carried out by Italian ships flying the U.N. flag.

Mastrobuoni said Italy’s navy and coast guard would begin seizing any ships carrying Albanian refugees to Italy. Most of the refugees have disembarked from packed boats at this Italian port in recent days, swamping the docks with would-be emigres.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, meanwhile, appealed to Italy today not to prevent any Albanian asylum-seekers from landing on Italian shores.

Earlier in the week, the minister of civil protection, Vito Lattanzio, was apppointed head of a special government commission to deal with the Albanian refugee situation.

Italy asked Albania earlier today to cut off the exodus and release political prisoners to help relieve tension in the poor nation. It also pledged economic aid, but did not release figures.

Since last week, about 17,000 Albanians have arrived aboard crammed ships in southern Italy after making the 50-mile trip from Albania across the Adriatic Sea. They have overwhelmed not only Brindisi, by Otranto and other port cities in Italy’s Apulia region.

The largest number, about 15,000, are here in Brindisi. With few facilities to house them, thousands of Albanians spent last night sleeping in plastic bags on the dock or in an adjacent warehouse.

However, thousands of others broke through police barriers or climbed over fences to enter the city in search of food and shelter, authorities said.

″We are in an emergency situation,″ said Maria Grazia Coluccia, a spokeswoman for the Brindisi prefect’s office. ″We are waiting for extra security forces to arrive to help control this situation.″

An Albanian fishing boat carrying 25 Albanian refugees was reported sinking in the Adriatic Sea today, Lloyds Casualty Service said. It said a patrol plane and other ships were dispatched to try and find the boat, the Nikogjro.

On Thursday, Albania’s governing Communists ordered the military to take control of the country’s main ports, including Durres, where thousands of people in recent days have commandeered ships and sailed to Italy.

Besides those fleeing to Italy, Yugoslav officials say another 550 people have crossed from Albania into Yugoslavia.

The refugees have little faith Albania’s first multiparty elections, set for March 31, will improve the backward economy or ease the Communists’ 47- year grip on power.

Slobodan Milosevic, president of Yugoslavia’s Communist republic of Serbia, sent a message to Albanian President Ramiz Alia demanding that ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins be allowed to leave Albania for Yugoslavia. There are tens of thousands of ethnic Yugoslavs among Albania’s 3.2 million people.

Serbia faces its own problems with an ethnic Albanian minority in the Kosovo province which is resisting tightening Serbian control.

The Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, reported today that a boat carrying about 30 Albanian refugees, mostly women and children, reached Yugoslavia’s Palagruza island.

Tanjug said the refugees were hungry and exhausted when they reached the island, little more than an outcrop of rocks with a lighthouse in the Adriatic. A strong wind had apparently pushed the boat off course on its way to Italy.

An Albanian government journalist contacted by telephone from Vienna, Austria early today said the military had moved into the ports, but could provide no details of their numbers or actions.

Gramoz Pashko, a leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said about 30,000 people still were waiting in Durres for ships to take them away.

In July, 5,000 Albanians sought asylum in foreign embassies in Tirana and obtained safe passage, most to Germany and Italy. Since then, however, with emigrants pouring into Western Europe from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the willingness to accept refugees from Eastern Europe has cooled.

3-08-91 0955EST

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