From: Alice Taylor
Afghan Refugees in Shengjin, Forgotten and Facing Eviction

Afghan refugees staying in the coastal city of Shengjin until their visas for the US and other countries are processed say they are facing eviction, having their passports confiscated, and that many of the NGOs that were helping them have left.

Documents provided to Exit by legal representatives of some refugees, describe the situation and the fact that the refugees have to leave their temporary homes at the Rafaelo Resort in Shengjin.

One document, sent by the Afghan Rescue Project (ARP)—a group of current and former US military officers working with the support of the US government—describes how there are “currently difficulties with your housing”.

It states that the Albanian government negotiated a contract with the Rafaelo Resort for the group’s accommodation at the cost of EUR 400,000 a month for some 370 people with a 20% tax the government claimed they could not waive. 

“To date, ARP donors have spent over $2 million dollars (over $5000 per person) to support you. To be clear, we are in this situation because what we were told about US government support and timelines has not been fulfilled,” a letter reads.

They state they thought they could fund accommodation costs for the group until their visas were fulfilled, but as they are still not completed, money has run out. ARP states this is because, in January 2022, the government decided to prioritise and process those who left Afghanistan before August 2021, meaning those who left after face significant delays.

“The delays paired with the attention the war in Ukraine is receiving has caused us major fundraising issues,” the letter states.

ARP said they contacted the US government to say they were facing difficulties with payment and asked for support. They write that the State Department refused their request for assistance.

As a result, ARP said that Rafaelo had started confiscating some refugees’ passports and that work with authorities was ongoing to reverse that decision. Afghans at the resort told Exit that management said “no one is going to kick you out” but that they can only have their passports back once the bill is paid.

Another document, written by a sponsor of the group and sent to US government officials, and seen by Exit, states that many of the refugees in Albania are facing imminent eviction.

“The Rafaelo hotel in which the evacuees have been staying in Shengjin, Albania, is facing a crisis. As you know, the tourist season on the coast is now beginning, and concerns have been raised that evacuees have been staying there far longer than anticipated,” it reads.

It continues that funds are no longer available from the NGO agencies to cover the housing of some 370 people with “the recent communication suggesting that they may face eviction, becoming homeless, or worse, facing deportation.”

The sponsor called on officials for their assistance and urgent intervention in “the new crisis”.

Exit spoke to M, a member of the group, who confirmed the contents of both letters while asking their name be kept confidential as they still have family in Afghanistan and fear for their safety.

“Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we will leave Rafaeolo because the hotel don’t want us to stay here anymore. We don’t know where we will go,” they said, adding that they hope ARP will help them.

“In eight months [since they arrived in Albania] we just received our three-month stipend and most times we cannot afford to buy our medicine.”

M also requested basic items such as soap, shampoo, and other toiletries as with little money and no possibility of working, they are struggling to make ends meet. Furthermore, support from NGOs on the ground has dwindled significantly.

“There are no NGOs here. They left for Ukraine. The Albanian government does not give us anything,” they told Exit.

The families are grateful to ARP who they say have done all they can to help them, but they implore the authorities involved to find a solution.

Exit contacted NGOs that had been working on the ground, including NED, Vital Voices, Red Cross, World Vision, and IRI, to ask if they were still working to supply aid to families in Shengjin, but no response was received. 

Similar questions were sent to local NGOs, and while some smaller organisations said they were still working there, their operations were limited compared to earlier in the year.

Questions were also sent to the US Embassy in Tirana, who referred Exit to the State Department, which did not reply. 

A spokesperson for the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “No, there is no eviction. There is always movement of individuals and families or groups thinking of different accommodation plans which is the right of the orgnisations, but to date, there has been no eviction from any hotel”.

They added that in the case of termination of contracts, the hotels would be in their right to request the release of the rooms, but no such case has been noted so far.

Exit visited the hotels where Afghan refugees were staying in December 2021. Many of those interviewed spoke of the challenges of being stuck in limbo, not knowing which countries they would be going to or when. Significant delays in visa applications were reported, with many stating they had not even been assigned case numbers.

Others reported depression and anxiety due to not knowing what would happen to them.

For some, nothing has improved in six months.

Z, contacted by Exit and who is still in the Rafaelo, said, “No, nothing has changed for me, I still do not know where I will go and when.”

One of the lawyers representing the group confirmed late on Tuesday, 31 May, that the families were told they would be made to leave the hotel. Protests also took place on Thursday after they were asked to leave.

No solution for their accommodation has been found so far.