Hundreds of Albanians streamed across the Greek border Sunday in what may be the biggest one-day exodus since Albania’s Communist government promised democratic reforms.
A police spokesman in the Greek border village of Filiates said it appeared that the Albanian government had opened its mountainous frontier with Greece.
“There can be no other explanation,” he said. “A mosquito couldn’t get across the border before.”
At least 500 Albanians arrived on Sunday, and all were seeking political asylum, he said.
“It looks like there are whole villages crossing--it’s a madhouse up here,” the police spokesman said.
“Our police station has become a refugee center,” he added. “We don’t know what to do with all these people.”
In Albania, meanwhile, an official spokesman indicated that for the first time in decades, Albanian Jews are being allowed to emigrate to Israel or elsewhere. Vladimir Prela, head of the Albanian Foreign Ministry’s press office, said: “If they want to live in Israel, they can do so.”
Prela, reached in the Albanian capital, Tirana, by telephone from Vienna, did not confirm reports that a plan for the emigration of about 500 Albanian Jews has been worked out by Jewish groups or governments in the West.
He suggested that Jews were being allowed to leave under a general easing of restrictions on travel abroad for all Albanians. He estimated that there are about 1,000 Jews in the tiny Balkan nation of 3.3 million.
So far this month, more than 1,000 people have fled into Greece along the countries’ frontier. Most have been ethnic Greeks, and they are automatically granted political asylum.
Border police officers said they had reports that about 3,000 more Albanians are expected to try to cross the 100-mile border area by tonight.
Refugees who are not ethnic Greeks and not eligible for immediate political asylum were to be bused to the U.N. Lavrion refugee center, 40 miles southeast of Athens.
Albania became a hard-line Stalinist state at the end of World War II, and it has only recently started to adopt democratic reforms embraced by other Eastern European countries last year.