Hundreds of Albanians streamed into Greece on Sunday in the biggest one-day exodus since their country’s Communist rulers began a reform program, and Albania announced it is also allowing Jews to depart.
Thirty-seven Jews, all related, flew to Rome from the Albanian capital en route to Israel, said Shula Bahat, a spokeswoman for the American Jewish Committee in New York.
She said Sunday’s flight was the first in a planned operation dubbed “Flying Carpet” to whisk an estimated 500 Jews out of Albania.
Vladimir Prela, head of the Albanian Foreign Ministry’s press office, said the Jewish emigration is part of a new government policy to allow people to leave Albania.
“If they want to live in Israel, they can do so,” Prela said in a telephone interview from Tirana, Albania’s capital. He estimated Albanian Jews number about 1,000.
Tirana newspapers Sunday published a new draft constitution that enshrines freedom of movement, as well as freedom of religion and private ownership, according to Albanian Radio.
The government station, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp. in London, said the draft establishes multi-party elections. Under the new constitution, the president would be selected by Parliament to a five-year term and could be reelected only once.
Despite the reforms, many Albanians appear set on using their newly won mobility simply to bolt the country.
A police spokesman in the Greek border village of Filiates said it appears that the Albanian government has opened its mountainous frontier with Greece.
“There can be no other explanation,” he said on condition of anonymity. “A mosquito couldn’t get across the border before.”
At least 500 Albanians arrived Sunday, and all were seeking political asylum, he said.
In the southeastern Albanian city of Korce, thousands of Albanians joined a rally of the country’s newborn opposition Sunday to urge the Communist authorities to postpone Feb. 10 parliamentary elections and free political prisoners, an opposition official said.
Genc Polo, spokesman for the 18-day-old opposition Democratic Party, quoted rally organizers as saying about 40,000 people attended the peaceful gathering.