Italy declares state of emergency over Albanian refugees
Hundreds of 'undesirables' sent back
March 19, 1997
Web posted at: 12:31 p.m. EST (1731 GMT)
ROME (CNN) -- Italy declared a national state of emergency
Wednesday as a flood of Albanian refugees has swelled to more
than 10,000 in less than a week. The nation also was sending
back nearly 300 refugees suspected of being criminals.
And with armed gangs terrorizing many Albanian cities,
authorities in the tiny Balkan nation appealed for
international aid to restore its shattered justice system.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi's Cabinet on Wednesday morning
decided that genuine refugees would be allowed to stay no
more than three months. But a decree ordered the expulsion of
those considered dangerous.
The first expulsions took place as the Cabinet met.
Describing the flow of refugees as "alarming and difficult to
manage," Italy's Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano told
Parliament 289 "undesirables" were being flown from the
southeastern port of Brindisi to Albania's capital Tirana in
three military helicopters armed with paratroopers.
About 10,600 Albanians have crossed the Adriatic Sea to
Italy in the past week, Napolitano said. Another 3,500 have
arrived in Greece, according to the U.N. High Commissioner
In Albania, where insurgents have warned of more unrest, the
nation worked to restore its shattered justice system.
Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela told state radio that
almost all of the country's jails have been destroyed, and
that all judicial files have been burned.
"We have prepared a list of urgent needs and have asked for
aid from foreign institutions. They have promised to help,"
The eastern city of Korca -- where at least 21 people have
been killed since last Wednesday -- was caught between rival
organized-crime gangs, according to residents and media
reports. Masked men were breaking into apartments and had
clashed with police Tuesday.
Amid the chaos, an 11-member delegation from the European
Union traveled to Albania's two biggest seaports, Durras and
Vlora, to determine how to deliver food and medicine.
A spokesman for Albania's navy, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said Vlora was overrun by mobs who had come to the
port seeking passage out, even though there are no boats
there. Durras was described as equally chaotic.
Jan Graf de Marchand et d'Ansemburg, who headed the European
mission, said aid was contingent on the nation's ability to
provide adequate security.
"The whole police and security structure is in a shambles.
There are no more prisons. There are no more prisoners, no
custom houses. There is no border police," he said in a news
conference. "There's hardly an army."
Brigadier General K.C. Roos, another delegation member, said
that sending international police trainers was a practical
option, but he was unsure whether it was a "political option
for the EU."
Anti-government protests have swept through Albania after
nearly every family lost money in investment pyramid schemes
that collapsed in January.
Correspondent Eric Olander and Reuters contributed to this report.
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