Elderly villagers welcome border guards as a vital lifeline to the outside world

«Welcome, my children, welcome. How are you?» The face of the elderly woman watering her mule at the spring of the village of Ganadio in Konitsa lit up as she saw the border guard jeep stop in the square. One of Ganadio’s 12 permanent inhabitants, all elderly, she refuses to abandon the remote village, a stone’s throw away from the Greek-Albanian border. In winter, they collect wood for their stoves (the only means of heating in this village) and they heave stones out of their gardens, a few square meters in size for each inhabitant. «We’re OK here. In the next village, Molitsa, there are only four inhabitants,» said the elderly owner of the village’s only general store-cum-cafe. For the villagers, the border guards’ daily patrol is the only contact they have with the outside world: a chance to exchange a few words, feel the security that somebody is thinking about them and will help them when need be. After three years in these mountain ranges, the border guards know the inhabitants individually. In return, the latter regard the guards as their children, who they lean on for help. Life here is different. Access to goods and services is difficult. The border guards are those who undertake to bring the medicine from Konitsa, to pay a bill and, frequently, to convey someone taken ill to hospital. The presence of the border guards has resulted in a tendency to return, though not yet by young people. More and more pensioners have been persuaded, however, to stay in their villages all year round, after having abandoned them in the early 1990s, fearful of the hordes of migrants who flooded the mountains. Poverty-stricken and hungry, the migrants often stole in order to survive. Daily existence became a nightmare, with bars springing up before windows and doors and people sleeping with a gun in their arms. The cobbled walkways, or kalderimia, resounded to unknown footsteps, and there were cases of people taking the law into their own hands. One of the most important services that the border guards provide here is making these elderly people feel safe inside their own homes. Drug squad officials say that factories processing heroin and cocaine exist in southern Albania, with the result that increasing quantities now flow into Greece.

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