Albania: Easing the burden of returning migrant families
In Albania, the socioeconomic situation drives its population to emigrate. The last years saw the number of migrants returning home increase significantly. This is related to tens of thousands of Albanians being refused asylum in EU countries. As many returnee children and their families face challenges when restarting life back home, Terre des hommes (Tdh) helps them reintegrate.
In Lezhë, a county in the Northern part of Albania, you find a small second hand market downtown. Alma and her husband Agim who are part of Albania’s Egyptian community, greet customers nicely. On that sunny, but chilly day, they are selling socks and hats at their stall. Behind their smile, there are experiences of a harsh journey, as they tried to start their life anew in Western Europe, but had to return to Albania.
The family initiated this small business with the support of Tdh that offers up to 500 EUR to returned migrants. In 2017, 80 families in Albania benefited from these grants, and more will get one this year. This kind of support gives returned migrants the opportunity to rebuild their life without empty hands. Besides improving their living conditions, it contributes to their self-confidence and social reintegration. “This activity brings us some money for food and our daughters’ school supplies, and we manage to save a bit, maybe one day we’ll be able to have our own house”, says Agim.
Their family enjoys being home since their return two years ago. They recall with dread their experience: in Germany, they lived in a camp with very poor living conditions. Their two daughters couldn’t go to school, while waiting for a response to their asylum request. The refusal of their application caused Alma a heart attack. They feared Kanun, a set of traditional Albanian laws that include vendettas, and at first hesitated to return, so they decided to go to the Netherlands. Although the Netherlands treated them well and children went to school, the country couldn’t provide them asylum and they were returned to Germany, where Agim was jailed for three weeks. “A very traumatising experience for my daughters, seeing me in handcuffs and being treated as a criminal”, said Agim.
Upon return to Albania, the two daughters received psychological and social integration support from Tdh. In our four community centres in Albania, 2700 children and 375 parents benefited in 2017 from activities developing their abilities, ensuring their smooth reintegration and preventing unsafe migration. “It’s a place where returned families and the ones planning to migrate can exchange their experiences and concerns”, explains Lindita Marku, the representative of the centre. Now, Alma and Agim prefer to look to the future and hope that their teenage daughters will get good jobs at home.
Their story is not unique in Albania. Although unprepared migration involves risks and may lead to violations of children’s rights, it is unlikely it will stop as long as adequate opportunities don’t exist at home. The increase of Albanian asylum seekers over the past few years coincided with the refugee crisis in the EU. The vast majority of applications were refused, being classified as economic migrants. Vincent Tournecuillert, manager of the Tdh migration programme for Europe, explains: “We do not contest the legitimacy of EU member States to send back migrants whose application for asylum had failed. What we are asking for is an appropriate set of services to insure the dignified conditions of return. The specific rights of children must be taken into consideration to guarantee a safe and adapted return.”
Tdh is committed to continue its work on easing the burden of starting life all over, nonetheless more local and international resources have to be mobilized to ensure adequate protection to children who are affected by migration.
Photo credit: © Tdh