Scores more Albanian refugees fled to Greece from Europe’s last Communist state Friday, braving the dangers of the heavily patrolled border and defying pleas from Athens to stay home.
Greek officials said almost 200 refugees dodged Albanian border guards and sneaked across the frontier in overnight escapes. To flee from Albania, they must tunnel under a 13-foot security fence and cross an icy river.
Nearly 6,000 refugees have crossed the border since Albania’s Communist leader, Ramiz Alia, loosened his grip on power and promised reforms early last month.
As the exodus continued, Albania’s Communists, facing their first political challenge in 46 years of hard-line Marxist rule, published an electoral platform Friday promising voters a reformed economy and political system.
Reiterating many proposals already aired by the leadership, the Communist Albanian Party of Labor promised freedom of worship and travel if voters choose the party over the new opposition Democratic Party in the first free postwar elections, on Feb. 10.
Such concessions would have been unthinkable only months ago, when basic freedoms and civil rights were denied the Balkan country’s 3.2 million.
In recent anti-Communist demonstrations across the nation, tens of thousands have called for more democracy and postponement of the elections to allow the opposition to prepare a more effective campaign.
Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras said he will discuss the problems caused by the large number of refugees with Greece’s European Community partners in Luxembourg on Friday.
Samaras is calling on the U.N. high commissioner for refugees in Geneva to send a team to assess the influx.
The Athens government has repeatedly called on the refugees to go home and await Alia’s pledged political reforms. But refugees like Odysseus Iotis, 32, who crossed with his wife and two young children, said they cannot wait.
“You can’t understand it. The degree of decay. Nothing works,” he said. “Only top members of the Communist party have anything new. Everything else, all the machinery for business, is falling apart. There is no future for that country, whatever they reform.”