Albanians in Italy Fight Losing Battle

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Albanian refugees pelted police with rocks and bottles and made desperate dashes for freedom Friday as Italy began returning them to their impoverished homeland.

Ferries and planes carrying more than 1,500 Albanians left this southern port on the 125-mile trip to the tiny Balkan nation, where reports said thousands of others were seeking passage abroad.

Others were flown by military aircraft to Tirana, the Albanian capital. Officials said it would take four days to repatriate the 10,000 Albanians who arrived Thursday in Bari after crossing the Adriatic in a commandeered freighter.


An Albanian journalist in Vienna said that at least 800 of the newly arrived Albanians had been returned by Friday night.

The demoralized refugees, hungry, sunburned and exhausted, arrived packed aboard the freighter Vlora, which defied a naval blockade and anchored in the harbor. Others arrived in small fishing boats.

Italy, which took in 20,000 Albanian refugees five months ago, had vowed to bar any more from entering. The navy increased patrols in the Adriatic to keep other boats away.

“Italy is sending us back to starve to death,” said Memola Alti, 18, as police escorted him aboard the ferry Tiziano for a return trip.

Fighting broke out Thursday night at a soccer stadium holding 7,000 of the refugees when word spread that they would be sent home. Hundreds of Albanians hurled rocks and bottles at police. An officer said dozens of Albanians and about 20 policemen were hurt.

An estimated 400 Albanians, including women and children, were hospitalized Friday suffering from dehydration during the crossing.

Albanian Radio reported Friday night that the major southern port of Durres, where most of the refugees boarded ships for Italy, had been cleared and was under the control of security forces. Earlier reports said thousands of people were confronting police and trying to board vessels for Italy or Malta.

Claudio Vitalone, an Italian undersecretary of foreign affairs, flew to Tirana on Friday to discuss further economic aid to Albania and an end to the exodus.