December 27, 2021

Albania Takes the Lead in Saving Afghan Refugees

By Vance Serchuk

Four months after the last American troops left Kabul, Washington remains haunted by its retreat from Afghanistan—and the knowledge the crises now convulsing that country are unlikely to stay contained there. Yet if there is a hopeful story to emerge anywhere from this year’s Afghan calamity, it might be here in the Western Balkans—a region that a generation ago was hemorrhaging refugees but that stepped forward last summer as an unexpected haven for those fleeing the Taliban. Leading the charge has been Edi Rama, Albania’s prime minister. Even before the fall of Kabul, Mr. Rama made the extraordinary decision to offer temporary sanctuary to at-risk Afghans with nowhere else to turn.

Since late August, more than 2,000 such Afghans and their families—including prominent female leaders, journalists and civil-society activists—have been evacuated here by third-party nongovernmental organizations. (Among the NGOs involved is the Afghan Future Fund, on whose board I serve.) Rather than attempting to conceal or play down this influx of foreigners, Albania’s leaders have embraced them with national pride. When the first planes carrying Afghans landed at the Tirana airport this summer, the Albanian prime minister was on the tarmac to greet them personally.

Rather than attempting to conceal or play down this influx of foreigners, Albania’s leaders have embraced them with national pride.

For traumatized refugees arriving penniless in a foreign land, Mr. Rama’s presence was a remarkable gesture—indicating that Albania would treat Afghans not as a burden to be endured, but as honored guests deserving respect. For this reason, Mr. Rama forbid housing the Afghans in camps, instead accommodating them at a seaside resort complex.

The attitude of Albania’s leaders has been matched at the working level. Whether arranging medical treatment, distributing winter clothes or organizing English classes, Albanians inside and outside government have been creative, indefatigable partners in caring for the Afghans. This has been all the more impressive given Albania’s limited resources. One of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries has been among its most generous in responding to the Afghan crisis.

Read the full article from The Wall Street Journal.

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