From: Erin Doak
Losing Your Freedom and Dignity at the Hands of Albanian Border Police

My husband was refused the right to travel through Nene Tereza airport with me to Italy, two weeks ago. Unfortunately, this is common for Albanian citizens. However, the events that followed were cruel, unprofessional, and one of the most humiliating moments of my life. This compelled me to tell our story and raise awareness on such an important issue and hopefully help others avoid this treatment in the future. I think as a community we need to be talking about these mistreatments more and holding authority accountable.

I am an American Citizen, who came to Albania 6 years ago to serve in the Peace Corps. I was fortunate to meet my Albanian husband at the end of my service in Shkoder 3 years ago. We’ve been happily married for over a year and we live together in Tirana, Albania.

Before we met, my husband applied for economic asylum in Germany, but he was denied and then deported. This process left him with a 2-year expulsion from EU that would complete in 2016. In December 2017, he tried to visit his brother in Italy, but was denied at Rinas airport. He was instructed by the border police to provide the paperwork showing that his expulsion was lifted.

Together, we hired an Albanian lawyer in Germany and they filed with the German government to have his expulsion removed from the system. We got the official documents showing this from the German government, translated into Albanian and notarized them by our Albanian lawyer, in early January 2019.

With all the paperwork completed by a professional lawyer, we booked another trip to Italy feeling confident we followed the border police’s instructions. After we checked in our flight, we approached the international border desk together. The border police scans my American passport first and quickly returns it. Next, she reviews my husband’s and stares for a while at the screen. We anticipate this has something to do with the expulsion so we hand her the documents from the German government. She begins to say, “the problem is these are not translated…” but as she says this she flips to the back pages where it’s translated into Albanian. Then she says, “the problem is this stamp is not from the Albanian government” and we explain it is notarized with an official stamp from the German lawyer on the back.

But she told me to continue to the terminal, leaving my husband behind to wait. I calmly explained that we were married and I offered to show her my marriage certificate, whilst stating that we were travelling as a family and I was not prepared to leave him.

This response, to my surprise, enraged the officer and she became aggressive and started pounding the counter and slapping the walls of her kiosk, and threatened my husband (in Albanian) by saying that if he did not control his wife, this would not end well for him. I insisted that we had not broken any laws, and furthermore my husband does not control what I do. At this point she stormed from the kiosk, muttering under her breath and instructing us to wait for a moment more. We followed her instructions and waited near a small room by the airport security.

After waiting for 15 minutes, my husband’s documents were passed to another officer who asked my husband to enter a small room without me present. I tried to enter the room with my husband, the original officer, and the second officer, but was verbally abused in Albanian and my husband was told once again to “control me”. The officers then attempted to physically grab me and threatened to arrest me if I tried to enter the room again. I was told that this matter didn’t concern me, and the verbal abuse continued for several moments. There was no aggression or illegal behavior on the part of me or my husband, we just wanted to exercise our right to travel to Italy as a family.

Trying to appease the officers, I exited the room against my will and the door closed. I heard the police officers shouting at my husband for several minutes. Another officer then approached me without identifying herself and removed my passport from my hand whilst refusing to answer any questions. At this point, hearing the shouting intensify inside the room, I opened the door.

I was told by the officer that they would not let my husband exit Albania. My requests to speak to someone in charge, or be told which law had my husband broken was repeatedly ignored. The questions seemed to infuriate her and she told one of the other officers to take my passport and write me a ticket. I asked her what the ticket was for and she ignored me. The other officer walked off with my passport and I continued asking questions in English. All of my questions were ignored.

Then, the decision was taken that my husband was now officially blocked from travelling. We were told that if he got a stamp from an Albanian notary, he might be able to travel, my passport was returned and I was advised I could continue on my way without my husband. I asked for her name or badge number and she ignored me, I tried to photograph her badge and she tried to take the phone from my hand with force.

We just stood there, stunned by what just happened. As painful as it was I decided to get on my flight leaving him alone in security. Our thought was it’s better to lose one ticket than two. He would get this stamp and we would buy him a flight for the evening or the next morning. This was a soul crushing decision and one of the most stressful moments of my life. I kissed him goodbye and turned to run towards the gate, hoping I could hold the tears back long enough to get settled into my seat.

The next day, my husband proceeded to the border police headquarters in Tirana and showed them his documents and they said the officers at the airport had no right to stop him. They said all the documents looked correct. He then filed a formal complaint about these officers and this experience. They also explained he would need to wait 24 hours before trying to exit Albania again.

48 hours later, my husband flew to Milan from Podgorica, Montenegro. At the Montenegro Hani i Hotit border crossing, he was stopped again by the Albanian border police, who stated that they could see he had his passage refused at Rinas two days ago. They asked why he did not declare when trying to enter Montenegro that he would be flying onwards to Europe. My husband explained that this was a normal route for him to travel into Europe, benefitting from cheaper flights from Montenegro, and he had undertaken it several times with no problems.

After this exchange, he was left to wait, again, without explanations given. At one point, he felt the wait was intentional, as they were expecting something from him. But he remained calm, and after waiting and waiting he was finally let through the border by the police.

As he entered Montenegro he was stopped by the Montenegrin border staff who scanned his passport, read his history and waved him through with no issues in a matter of minutes. They didn’t ask for a letter of invitation, health or travel insurance, how much money he had, evidence of a return ticket, or any of the documents showing that his expulsion had been lifted—it was only in Albania that him leaving the country was an issue. Upon arrival in Italy, my husband was allowed into the country without any form of questioning, whatsoever, taking place.

After we returned to Albania, I shared our experience with friends and I have heard other people’s testimony of similiar happenings. Most of them told me that we should have paid a bribe and everything would have gone smoothly. I don’t know how much, but I do know this has happened to other Albanians, some paying hundreds of euros just to leave their own country.

We all know the Albanian system is corrupt but when it leaves the normal law-abiding Citizen feeling like a prisoner what do you do? You bribe for your rights? You bribe for your freedom?

I know thousands of Albanians have similar stories to ours and no one ever hears about them. I also realise this article may not change anything but I am a firm believer that talking about a problem is the first step to fixing a problem.