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First Albanian Refugees Reach Heidelberg With AM-Albania-Change, Bjt

July 15, 1990

HEIDELBERG, West Germany (AP) _ Thousands of weary but jubilant Albanian refugees savored freedom Saturday and set about their new lives.

Albanians who had sought refugee at the West German Embassy in the Albanian capital, Tirana, were sent to 14 destinations across West Germany. About 125 arrived in Heidelberg, a city of 130,000 about 60 miles south of Frankfurt on the Neckar river.

The refugees, mostly young men and a few women and children, looked happy but exhausted after the 26-hour trip. They waved their hands in victory.

″We are leaving our country because we don’t want the Communists,″ said Enkeo Halili, a 24-year-old mechanic as he stepped from the train. ″We are young ... we are poor. We’ve never even seen a discotheque.″

Those sentiments were echoed by Albanians who arrived early Sunday in Turkey aboard a Turkish Airlines DC-9 sent to Albania by the Turkish government.

″We want to live in a free society. We want to have our political and legal rights,″ said Arben Shanja, 28, a physics teacher from Shkoder who fled Albania with his wife and 2-week-old daughter.

They were among a group of 76 Albanians who arrived at Ankara’s Esenboga airport, carrying a few belongings in plastic bags. The refugees looked tired but waved and made victory signs as they waited to go through passport control.

About 4,500 Albanians were evacuated in a boatlift across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi, Italy, on Friday. Three trains picked up the 3,000 Albanians who had sought refuge in the West German Embassy. In Basel, Switzerland, they were sent on smaller trains to 14 different West German cities.

It was still unclear how many wanted to stay in West Germany and how many wished eventually to go to third countries. Many have said they hope to go to the United States.

Other refugees brought from Albania in the boatlift chose to remain in Italy, and 544 were shipped on to Marseille, France.

The French-chartered Yugoslav ferry Orient Star had been scheduled to dock Saturday. But it was delayed until Sunday because a 21-year-old pregnant woman had to be evacuated from the ship to an Italian hospital. Her condition was not immediately known.

Also Saturday, an Albanian couple was married on board. Afterward, other refugees joined together to sing an Albanian wedding song.

Saturday was Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. It was marked aboard the Orient Star by a member of the French delegation, which told the Albanians of its meaning and explained the independence they would have in their new country.

Also Saturday, the 56 Albanians sheltered in the Polish Embassy in Tirana were flown to Warsaw. Another 39 who sought refuge in the Hungarian Embassy were flown to Budapest and on the same plane were five who took refuge at the Bulgarian Embassy. They traveled on to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

A Turkish Airlines plane on Saturday was to pick up the 57 refugees at the Turkish Embassy in Tirana, the Anatolia news agency reported in Ankara.

″There was no way to live,″ said Avni Azizi, a 23-year-old Albanian tailor, of his Communist homeland. ″We all think that at the most in one year the whole Albanian people will be free.″

The refugees began crowding into foreign embassies in Tirana two weeks ago, seeking to flee Albania, which has resisted the kinds of sweeping democratic reforms that have radically altered other East European countries.

The Albanian government has introduced only limited reforms, including some religious freedom and travel abroad, which Albanians were not permitted for 45 years.

One 29-year-old refugee, who asked that only his first name be used, said Westerners could not understand what life was like in Albania, Europe’s last hard-line Stalinist state.

″To understand this regime you have to live there. They want to systematically destroy spiritual life ... turn us into robots,″ Gijon said.

He said Albanians began rushing foreign embassies after they learned a family that had lived for years in the Italian Embassy had been allowed to leave the country.

News of the family’s May 16 release was broadcast on Italian television, which many Albanians receive, he said.

Many other refugees also referred to the Popa family, which sought refuge in the Italian Embassy in December 1985.

In Heidelberg, the refugees were given food and clothing. Most were taken to a former clinic that until recently housed East German refugees.

But the German Red Cross said 10 of the 125 were sick and would be taken to hospitals. Carl Bauer, a Red Cross spokesman in Bonn, said they were suffering from fever, diarrhea and weakness.

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