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Migration and Albania

Albanian flag

Capital: Tirana 
Population (Census 2011): 2,800,138 
Area: 28,748 km sq 
Language: Albanian 
Currency: Lek
Climate: Albania has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry and mild wet winters.
Weather in Albania: Hottest month is August, up to 40 C, the coldest month is January, with temperatures as low as -2 C.


Albania is located in southeastern Europe in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula and covers an area of about 28,748 square km. Placed in a strategic geographic position Albania is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo-northeast, Macedonia-east, Greece-south and southeast, Italy – 72 km (50 miles) across the Adriatic Sea.

Albania has a population of 2,800,138 inhabitants (CENSUS 2011). The country has enjoyed a high sustained rate of economic growth over the past several years, averaging about 5–6 per cent per year, placing Albania into the group of countries with a high Human Development Index (0.749).

Throughout the transition period Albania has been faced with a number of complex challenges in order to establish stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and human rights as well as to operate a functioning market economy and to cope with competition and market forces.

With the completion of Corridor VIII, the expected implementation of the gas pipeline project TAP, with further development of infrastructures capacities of the leading ports, Albania will connect Mediterranean hub ports and European markets they serve, with the Balkan Region and further with the markets surrounding the Black Sea. Albania represents a considerable market in the region due to several agreements on free trade with neighbor countries and European Union, as well as an attractive investment destination.


Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 but till the end of the First World War, the country was attacked by neighboring countries.

In 1925, the Constitutional Assembly declared Albania a Parliamentary Republic and Ahmet Zog was elected President of Albania, but he had so much power in his hands that, in fact, the Republic functioned as a Presidential one. After three years Ahmet Zog was declared the King of Albania, receiving the royal title "Zog I".

After eleven years of monarchy the country was occupied by Mussolini forces in 1939, putting the end of monarchy. In 1943 the armies of Hitler occupies the country. The resistance against foreign invasion was known as the Anti – Fascist National Liberation front. The Communist party took power in November 1944, when the foreign armies were expelled. Shortly thereafter, a totalitarian regime was established under the communist leader Enver Hoxha.

For about 50 years, the regime applied the policy of self-isolation, leaving the country in great economic poverty until it finally emerged from isolation in 1991, when the first pluralistic Parliament declared the Parliamentary Republic of Albania. The principle of self-reliance applied by the Communist regime prohibited foreign loans, credits and investment.

The most visible and pressing challenge for Albania today is meeting the requirements of the European Union (EU) accession. On 18 February 2008 the Council adopted a new European partnership with Albania. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the country was signed on 12 June 2006 and entered into force on 1 April 2009. The EU-Albania visa facilitation agreement entered into force in January 2008. The country joined NATO in April 2009 and in 2010 Albania obtained the visa liberalization regime with the EU (schengen area). The country has made significant progress toward European Union (EU) integration, measured primarily in terms of meeting political criteria and establishing stable institutions that guarantee democracy, rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities, regional cooperation and good relations with enlargement countries and Member States.


Home of both Mother Theresa and the great 15th Century hero Skanderbeg, Albania is listed among the top touristic destinations with an impressive natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.

Albanian culture is an exotic blend of traditions that have evolved over thousands of years. From the ancient Illyrians and Greeks to the Romans and the Ottomans, the language, music, arts, and cuisine of the Albanian people are a rich and vibrant mix of many civilizations.

Albania has three UNESCO world heritage sites: Butrint, one of the world's archaeological wonders located in the south of Albania, provides a glimpse of Mediterranean civilization from the Bronze Age through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods; The Museum City of Gjirokastra and the Museum City of Berat, which are inscribed as rare examples of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period.

Albania country is home to fourteen National Parks, all of them with something unique to offer. The country is known for its Riviera and unspoilt beaches of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Its diverse landscape provides plenty of outdoor activities such as trekking, mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, rafting, kayaking, bird watching, fishing, mountain biking and more.

Migration in Albania

a)   The Middle Ages to the 19th Century


The first wave of mass migration from Albania was the result of the country's Ottoman occupation following the death of Skënderbeg, Albania’s national hero, in 1468. Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire, with the invasion leading to large flows of Albanians moving mainly towards Italy. Between 1468 and the early sixteenth century, approximately one-quarter of the total population of Albania fled their homes as a result of Ottoman occupation (Carleto et al. 2004: 2). According to estimates, around 200,000 Albanians emigrated towards southern Italy, setting up several towns where communities, known as Arbëresh, are still present today (Bërxholi, 2000; Trita, 1999: 97; Piperno, 2002; Tachella, 2005). The five centuries under Ottoman rule were characterized by flows of international and internal migration, taking the form of both forced and voluntary migration by those seeking better living conditions and independence from the Ottomans (Tachella,2005). However, poverty induced the internal movement of the population, given the economic difficulties of undertaking international migration (Biagini, 1999).


b)  19th Century to 1945


Triggered by the fast industrialisation and urbanisation processes in many European countries and North America, labour emigration in Albania peaked at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of twentieth centuries (Vullnetari, 2007:13). Throughout this period, a large number of Albanians migrated for both political and economic reasons (Carleto et al. 2004: 2). This type of migration was to destinations both near and far, including Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Egypt, the United States, Argentina and Australia (Trita, 1999). The prime destination was, however, Greece, where there were around 400,000 individuals of Albanian descent by the mid-1930s (Barjaba et al.1992). Bërxholi and Doka (2005: 36) report that between 1930–1944 around 152,000 Albanians immigrated to other countries. Internal population movements before 1945, as well as the international movements, were determined by the socioeconomic and historical-political context in Albania. In this respect, the geographical position of the country, the dynamic landscape, with its mountainous northern and southern regions, the lowlands in the centre and the extended coastline to the west, have played an important role in directing migration mainly towards the lowlands and the coast (Bërxholi et al. 2005).


c)   Migration during the Communist Regime


Until the beginning of the 1990s, Albania had been the least known and the least accessible country in the world for more than four decades (Blejer et al. 1992: 1; Tachella, 2005). Following the Second World War, Albania experienced 45 years of one of the world’s most totalitarian communist regimes, marked by autocracy, repression and a unique level of isolation from the world community (O’ Donnell 1999; Tozzoli, 1992). Economic developments, especially in industry during the communist period, affected the regional redistribution of the population, following an increased demand for labour by the industrial sector. During the communist regime, 41 new urban centres were established as new axis of economic development (Rugg, 1994: 63; Bërxholi, 2000: 32–33). Nevertheless, after rapid urban growth in the first decade of communism, rural-urban migration was controlled and directed by the state. As a result, urban growth for the following decades was very steady.  According to Borchert (1975), during the 1950s and 1960s (the first five years in particular), internal migration rates towards urban areas were relatively high. This led to the highest urban growth of the communist era, with the urban population rising from 20.5 percent of the total in 1944 to 27.5 percent in 1955 and 30.9 percent in 1960 (Borchert, 1975). The average annual rates of increase in the urban population during this ten-year period were over 6 percent (INSTAT, 1989). The new wave of restrictions aimed at rural-urban movements was quite successful in restricting urbanization. Nevertheless, Sjöberg (1992) argues that despite these policies, internal migration was still taking place, with approximately one-third of the population growth in urban areas between 1960–1987 being due to rural-urban migration. Sjöberg (1992;11) further suggests that rural-rural migration during the same period was equally important as rural-urban migration, with a significant shift of the population from the northern and southern rural areas to rural areas adjacent to the main cities in the west and along the coast. As far as international migration is concerned, between 1945-1990 there were only sporadic cases of people trying to illegally cross the border, mainly towards Yugoslavia. Most of them were captured and the ones who succeeded faced severe repercussions on their families and relatives from the communist regime.


d)  Post-communist migration in Albania


Albania currently has the highest rate of migration, relative to its population, in Central and Eastern Europe. Since 1990, it has experienced massive internal and external migration of its population. During the period from 1989 to 2001, approximately 710,000 people, or 20 per cent of the total population, were living outside the country. Nowadays figures on Albanian emigration are represented from different sources such as INSTAT, EUROSTAT, Italian and Greek National Statistics Institutes (for detail see the section Figures). The largest settlements of Albanian migrants abroad are to be found in Greece and Italy, due to geographical proximity, cultural affinity, and knowledge of the language.


First flow: 1991-1992


In March 1991, after the fall of the dictatorship and the first democratic elections, more than 24,000 Albanians landed on Italy's shores in only few days, an event considered a national crisis for both Italy and Albania. From 1992 to 1996, the flow of irregular migrants remained constant, although this period was characterized by the economic progress and political stabilization. According to UNFPA (1997: 3), between 1990 and 1995, the number of emigrants represented 9-11 % of the total population in 1995. Whereas outflows of unauthorized migrants in 1991 and 1992 were the result of extraordinary individual or collective initiatives, the following years saw the establishment of ‘professional’ organizations offering transport services for clandestine migration. Smuggling and trafficking flourished in Albania and were later to take on serious and worrying dimensions (CeSPI, 2003).


Second flow: 1997-1998


During this period, Albanian politicians optimistically assumed that the initial migration flow would slow down once democratic reforms had been introduced. However, the country then experienced a severe socio-economic crisis and civil unrest in 1997, sparking a second outflow of migrants. This resulted in a serious setback for the ongoing reforms and provoked a substantial flow of migrants to the EU countries. Between December 1996 and April 1997, some 30,000 migrants landed in Italy and 40,000 more in Greece, though the majority were subsequently repatriated (HLWG, 2000:13). During this period, the nature of the migratory flow shifted once more, both in terms of character and of destination. While statistics do not illustrate this shift, experts suggest that migrants were no longer predominately male, as more women were leaving, in part due to family reunification that generally is the main reason for the emigration of Albanian women (Misja, 1998).

           Third flow: the “invisible” flow


So far the Albanian migration towards the EU has been described as mainly characterized by two big flows, the one dating at the beginnings of 1991 and the second one in 1997 accompanied by a steady flux through the years. Instead, it can be argued that there is a third wave that did not reflect the dimensions of the first two but which imparted the important message that Albania was still unstable and economically insecure and migration flows were likely to continue if not properly managed. This happened during the Kosovo crisis in 1998-1999 and, according to different sources, led some 100,000 Albanians leaving the country (Kule et al., 2002). Among the repercussions of the Kosovo crisis for Albania was the manner in which it facilitated migration to EU countries (mainly through Italy, as a means for reaching the UK, Germany, and Belgium). Presenting themselves as Kosovars, Albanians sought asylum in several EU member states. This situation was made easier by the lack of identification documents for displaced Kosovars and by their common language. This movement was known as a “silent movement” as the Albanian authorities were much more concerned about recovering from the events of 1997 and continuing the reforms, than about handling the displacement of the Kosovo population and their own nationals.


e)   Typology of Albanian migration


Albania’s international migration can be examined by the core push and pull factors that characterize the phenomenon. In his 2004 article, Barjaba identifies unemployment and poverty as the primary push factors influencing decisions and migratory experiences. Other push factors offered by the existing literature include poor living conditions, lack of individual safety and political safety (De Sotto et al., 2002; Hope, 2006). Conversely, hope for a better future and prospects in host countries are key pull factors influencing international migratory experiences. The prospects sought range from education, employment, to overall quality of living for the individual migrant and his or her family (King & Vullnetari, 2003; Barjaba, 2004).

Remittances represent a central feature of Albanian international migration. Studies focusing on remittances are based on several sources such as the National Bank of Albania and several formal and informal outlets such as banks, Western Union, family friends, and relatives (IOM, 2006, World Bank, 2005; Vullnetari, 2007, Gedeshi et al., 2003). It is estimated that between 1992 and 2003 remittances ranged from $ 200 million to $ 800 million annually (de Zwager et al., 2005), although there is a widespread belief that these figures are underestimates. During the early ‘90s, remittances were monetary and in-kind, with the latter comprising items such as clothing, furniture, and appliances. However, during the past decade remittances have been mostly monetary. When examining the trend of remittances, an increase can be noted during 1992-1996, a decline in 1997 during the fall of the pyramid schemes and again an increase afterwards, reaching an estimated $ 1 billion in 2004 and representing 10% to 20% of the country’s overall GDP (Vullnetari, 2007). Lastly, due to the world’s financial and economic crisis remittances have sharply decreased from 2009 onwards, especially from Albanian emigrants living in Italy and Greece.

In summary, a review of existing literature on Albanian international migration, leads to several conclusions (IOM:2008):

• The phenomenon predominantly affects the working-age young population and is more prevalent among males.

• Migratory experiences are influenced by factors such as unemployment, poverty, lack of individual and collective safety (push factors) as well as economic, educational, and aspirations for a better quality of life (pull factors).

• International migration can emerge as an individual undertaking and later become a family-based phenomenon, where family members join the individual migrant after an initial period of living abroad.

• Remittances are a key characteristic of Albanian migration, its resources influencing the immediate well-being of family members and indirectly the local economy.


f)    Return migration


Two decades after massive migration of its citizens to Western European countries, migration flows from Albania have decreased due to increasing stability and economic progress in the country. Yet, given its circular nature, migration from Albania continues to take place, including return migration as part of the cycle. The latter has in particular negatively affected the Albanian migrants who live in Greece, lowering their chances to find a job and renew their work permit, leading in many cases to return to Albania. According to the projections of the Albanian Centre for Competitiveness and International Trade (ACIT), in the period 2007-2012 between 18% to 22% of the Albanian migrants in Greece equivalent to approximately 180,000 individuals, have returned to Albania. Given the circular nature of migration from Albania and the effect of visa liberalization on mobility of the Albanian citizens in the EU Schengen area as of December 2010, the propensity to migrate and consequently to return remains considerable. Strong national capacities are therefore required in preparing for future challenges of labour mobility that relate also to return and reintegration of migrants.




2.a Albanian Population (Census 2011)

2.b Albanian return migrants

2.c Eurostat Albanian Migrants by Citizenship

2.d Eurostat Albanian Migrants by Country of Birth

2.e Italian Statistical Authority – Albanian Immigrants

2.f Greek Statistical Authority – Albanian Immigrants