Since the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed on 8 March, the Albanian government has taken an increasing number of harsh steps that they hope will eradicate the virus. Through online press conferences, updates on Ministry websites and social media, and live streams on the Prime Minister’s Facebook account, the government has communicated the ever-increasing amount of restrictions and changing curfew schedules to citizens.
The problem is that Albania’s 14,000 plus expats have been left in the dark. Some, with varying degrees of fluency in Albanian, have been able to understand the press conferences. Others have resorted to Google Translate to try and decipher Edi Rama’s cryptic Facebook posts. Many have ended up confused, anxious, and unsure of what is happening around them.
With rules changing on an hourly basis, armed forces patrolling the streets, and a total shut down for almost every service in the country, Albania’s foreign community has had a tough time making sense of it all. Exit spoke to a number of foreigners that are residing in the country for a variety of reasons and for varying amounts of time.
Communication with the Authorities
Exit asked whether they had received any official communication regarding the situation, or if they had tried to seek information from authorities, whether they had any success.
Some respondents did not expect to receive anything, but others said that they had expected at least some information about the situation and new rules. Emma said she spoke to the police on one occasion, but even they did not seem clear about the rules. Yisroel said he contacted a Ministry twice but never received a reply.
Chiara told Exit “Directly we didn’t receive any information from the government. Plus we don’t speak Albanian so we can’t understand the announcement.”
Many expats are here on one to four-year contracts and learning the language is not always possible. Others who are learning, are not always able to translate announcements or live streams adequately.
Rama’s Facebook posts were difficult to translate and at times, not 100% clear. Others found his way of addressing people to be rude and unprofessional.
Ozgen noted: “The prime minister types in capital letters all the time which is rude in internet ethics. He communicates to people saying “O NJEREZ” (Hey people or Hey humans) whereas I expect him to communicate by saying “Te Nderuar Qyteyaret” (Dear Citizens).”
Media and Facebook
Instead, Expats were forced to turn to the two English-language media platforms in the country- Exit.al/en or Albanian Daily News. Almost all respondents said that they used one, or both of these media as their primary or secondary source of information. A number of expats also relied on Facebook groups such as Expats in Albania to find out what was happening, to ask questions, and to find contact information for the police.
Carol said, “No official information has been received, I have been totally reliant on yourself [exit.al] and [admin of Expats in Albania] for information.”
Sara added: “Primary sources were definitely exit.al and the expat groups.”
Most queries of this type were answered with articles from the above two media platforms. Expats noted that it was hard to find up-to-date or reliable information outside of these media.
Embassies and Consular Assistance
It was a disappointing response from Embassies as well. While some noted they had good service from their consular officials, many were unhappy with the lack of communication.
Emily said “I have never been impressed by the way the US embassy communicates. I have never received an email or call back from the US Embassy when looking or asking for information.”
While the US Embassy sent out a total of two emails to citizens in the country, it also told them they are on their own if they need to make arrangements to leave the country.
Claire added: “I received automatic mails from the French embassy which only was a translation of Albanian measures. When I wrote to them two weeks ago, they never replied.”
The British Embassy didn’t fare much better. Richard said he tried to call them and got a crackly answering message that cut out half way through. Fiona added that they had made no effort to communicate anything with her during the last few weeks.
Another woman was left unhappy with her Embassy who bluntly told her that if flights are cancelled it is a commercial act and there is nothing they can do to help.
Anxiety and Fear
But what sort of impact does being in a foreign country, during a global pandemic, with little access to information have on people?
“The lack of information flow just made me lost and helpless. I tried to survive with self-therapy. The government and the Prime Minister don’t care at all about what I (and other residents) need…” said Ozgen.
Dayhanna reported feeling “anxious and unsure of what’s to come”, Elizabeth added that the “conjecture and rumours” are making her feel crazy.
Emma elaborated, “The communication of information has got me quite confused because there is new information coming in every day and everyone’s saying different things…it has impacted me quite negatively.”
Richard felt more positive, “I tend to keep a calm head although I know others who are very distressed by all the news.”
Others described feeling “very uneasy”, “sometimes positive and sometimes negative”, and said the lack of information was “anxiety-inducing”. Others said that “not having access to information makes people panic.”
The majority of respondents were happy with government measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus, some even saying they felt safer in Albania than in their own countries. They were willingly doing their bit to follow the rules but that not knowing how long things would remain this way was hard.
Most ex-pats hold residence permits and pay tax so it is reasonable to expect some level of communication to them from the authorities. Even more so when measures are being introduced that could result in arrest, penalties and other punishments.
Overall, embassies failed to provide advice or assistance to their citizens and this should be condemned. Exit is aware that rather than staying to provide assistance, many embassy employees left the country during the first 10 days of the crisis.
A global pandemic is unprecedented in Albania and every day has been a challenge but the authorities, and embassies have a duty of care to protect everyone within their borders. People need to know what is happening, when, and how they need to react.