For Italy's Flood of Immigrants, Being on the Lam Beats Poverty ALBANIANS BY THE BOATLOAD

By Lara Santoro, | The Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

For Italy's Flood of Immigrants, Being on the Lam Beats Poverty ALBANIANS BY THE BOATLOAD


Lara Santoro,, The Christian Science Monitor


Ardjan Citozi caught his first glimpse of Italy's coast at one in the morning a little more than a year ago. He and 38 other Albanians were drifting in absolute darkness on a raft in the Adriatic Sea, waiting to sneak onshore.

Living as an illegal alien in Italy, Mr. Citozi's life might have seemed difficult. He lived in a small, poorly heated room, drove a truck without a license for "under-the-table wages," which were often withheld, all the while steering clear of the police.

But not once did he question the wisdom of leaving the poverty of the tiny mountain town of Kruyr in his native Albania, one of Europe's poorest post-communist states. "I knew that after the hard times, Italy would be good," he says, "And I was right. In Albania there is nothing, really - only poverty and no jobs." His journey cost almost as much as the average yearly income in Albania, about $800. Most of the money was raised by his mother from the sale of her house. She wanted her son to find a better life outside of Albania. Most of the 56,336 Albanians legally employed in Italy, as well as an estimated 100,000 illegally employed, have entered the country since the fall of communism in Albania in 1991. Illegal immigrants now hold 30 percent of Italy's black-market jobs and compose a third of Italy's jail population, according to Justice Minister Maria Giovanni Flick. Albanians constitute the single largest group of immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe. The former Yugoslavia is a close second, with 51,518 legal immigrants, and Poland is a distant third, with 21,293 legal aliens. The government's immigration policy, which many believe is too lax, has been hotly controversial. Right-wing parties have called for the Army to stop prostitution rings run by Albanians and for new laws that would make the expulsion of illegal aliens automatic. The number of illegal aliens expelled in the last few years has risen dramatically - a record 4,832 foreigners repatriated and another 115 arrested in the first six months of 1996 alone. Italy has tightened security by putting the Guardia di Finanza, a special police force, at land and sea borders. Life on the street for women Not all Albanians in Italy find legitimate work. Many Albanian women, lured to Italy by the promises of marriage or good jobs, end up as prostitutes. …

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