Greek police detained 8,600 Albanians over the weekend and they were being bused to the border in convoys all day yesterday. Athens' justification was Tirana's expulsion last week of the Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Chrysostomos Maidonis from the southern town of Gjirokaster. He was accused of working to 'Hellenise southern Albania'. Greece's heavy-handed response adds further to the potent brew of disputes in which Athens is already engaged with its neighbours in the Balkans.
'I am saddened by the policy followed by Albania, which is continually creating unjustified provocations,' the Greek Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, said at the weekend.
'I would like to tell them that they must be prepared to grant the Greek minority in their country that which they ask for Albanians who are living outside the borders of present Albania,' he said in a pointed reference to Albanian appeals that Serbia grant autonomy to Kosovo, which is mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
Yesterday's round-up dwarfed previous swoops inside EC borders. The scale of the expulsion also adds to tension in the region: Albanians form a poor and discriminated-against minority in the former Yugoslavia. They are Muslims for the most part and outside Albania proper they form a majority in Serbian-controlled Kosovo and up to 20 per cent of the population in parts of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the other tinderbox of the region.
Greek statistics suggest 200,000 Albanians work illegally in the country, most having crossed the border since the collapse of Communism in their country in 1990.
The Albanians do low-paid seasonal jobs that Greeks have come to disdain. Greeks hire them because they come cheap and there is no need to pay social-security costs. Officially, Albanians need visas and work permits to stay in Greece but the Athens authorities have not been able to patrol the long mountain border to keep out illegal immigrants.
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