NEWS

Mertziani, the third way into Greece from Albania

THESSALONIKI – The Greek government is considering a plan to transport Albanian immigrants visiting their homeland by boat via Durres, Vlore, Corfu and Patras, in order to ease the heavy traffic at land border posts between the two countries, particularly during the busier holiday periods. According to Kathimerini sources, Foreign Minster George Papandreou has written to Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis proposing the use of passenger ships to transport immigrants returning from holidays in Albania. Papandreou has also asked the Public Order, National Economy and Environment and Public Works ministries to help with infrastructure and personnel at the existing border posts of Kakavia and Krystallopigi, as well as the new post at Mertziani, in Konitsa, which opened on Friday. Athens is planning a complete upgrading of the customs posts at the country’s northern borders, which are major channels to export markets and to countries with considerable Greek investments, where there is busy traffic throughout the year. The improvements were prompted by the adverse publicity Greece gained last summer when tens of thousands of Albanian immigrants were trapped for days at the border on their return from holidays. Now, as heavy traffic is expected again over the Christmas holidays, technology and staff are to be increased. The new Mertziani post, although still understaffed and underequipped, is expected to relieve the burden on the other two posts considerably. Eventually, two other posts are to be opened at Sayiada and Drymades, complimented by the scheduling of passenger shipping routes. All border posts will be expanded and modernized along European lines. Last summer’s incidents brought Greek-Albanian relations to the brink of a crisis. A section of Albania’s political leadership and media tried to encourage an anti-Greek climate, hinting that the border traffic jam was part of a deliberate plot by Athens to harm Albania’s tourism and its economy. The truth was much simpler. What actually happened was that after hundreds of thousands of Albanians were given residence permits the previous spring, they were able to use their legal status to come and go legally, rather than crossing the border unofficially on mountain trails. The August 15 holiday saw the first major wave of Albanian workers in Greece heading for a holiday in their home country, and border officials were unprepared to deal with the extra flow of people.