“I found very kind people and great hospitality here, but it was however difficult. Especially when you have to introduce yourself, but you realize that all you had in your life vanished away and now you only identify with one word, refugee” – Zahra, an Afghan evacuee in her mid-thirties in Albania.
A few thousand Afghan nationals who fled their country following a turbulent transfer of power in August 2021 were evacuated to Albania and were given temporary shelter in Durres and Shëngjin. Since the beginning of their temporary stay in Albania, IOM has been close to the evacuees and assisted with facilitating their resettlement process to Canada, the US, and some European destinations.
After staying for over a year in Albania, Zahra* is about to start off a new life in a new country. Only a few steps from the takeoff, she becomes emotional and shares with us her Albanian experience.
“I was completely unprepared for what to expect here. I recall in the beginning one would imagine uncomfortable refugee camps, and I was terrified to even at the thought of experiencing something like that. Luckily, this did not happen. People were kind here. When they would hear I was from Afghanistan, you could see kindness in their eyes.”
IOM’s operational personnel keep Afghan families informed of their dates of medical checkups to see if fit to travel and provide pre-departure counseling, particularly on the flight arrangements and requirements, with due focus on medical and gender-based vulnerabilities.
Zahra adds that the health checks for travel purposes, the information sessions prior to departure and IOM’s airport assistance in the exit, transit, and reception process eased the hard feeling of the word “refugee” on her own skin. The anxiety of seeing everything crumble, fleeing her country, and feeling insecure about the future, accompanied her long sojourn in Albania.
“Everything was okay with the people and services that we got, but on the other hand, it was difficult. Even when you go somewhere for a week or two, you plan to do something in that place; imagine when you have to spend more than a year in a place and you don’t know what to do, you don’t know how long you will stay there. You don’t know when you’ll move to a different place and how your new life will be.”
In coordination with the respective embassies, host countries’ immigration authorities, airport and carrier authorities and other service providers, IOM logistically supported immigration authority interviewing, facilitated “fitness to travel” checks, pre-departure orientation sessions, movement operations, and other services related to refugee resettlement, for over 1800 Afghan nationals, as of their arrival to Albania in 2021.
*The name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.