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News 17 Nov 17

Albania Red-Faced Over Soldiers Deserting in UK

Defence Ministry acknowledges embarrassing reports that four of the highest trained soldiers failed to return home from a training mission in UK, again exposing the problem of low salaries and hopelessness in Albania.

Gjergj Erebara
BIRN
Tirana
Albanian armed forces in an emergency relief mission in January 2017. Photo: Gent Shkullaku/LSA

Albania's Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that it has opened criminal proceedings against four officers who failed to return home from a training mission in the United Kingdom, apparently prferring to live in the UK as illegal immigrants than enjoy a career in the armed forces of Albania.

"Regarding the news published in the media ... the press office of the Ministry of Defence says: four servicemen, while serving outside the country, have not returned to Albania after ending the service".

They have been charged with desertion and their case has been under investigation for several weeks, the press release added.

Albania is used to news about people's desperate attempts to migrate to Western countries due to economic stress and lack of hope, but the desertion of some of the best trained servicemen in the country is still seen as an extra embarrassment for the government.

The father of one of the "deserters" told the local newspaper Panorama that his son had served in Afghanistan and was one of the best trained men in the country but he had still been forced to survive on 30,000 lek [about 225 euros] a month.

Albania has a few thousand strong professional army which over the last decade has been overstretched in several peace-keeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the soldiers are still expected to serve back home on meager salaries and in difficult conditions, often stationed far away from home.

During the last few years, there have been cases of soldiers returning from Afghanistan committing suicide or homicide while in one case, former soldiers were arrested after organizing a string of hits against private security vans carrying millions of euros.

Albania has a long history of mass immigration. The last wave, on 2015-2017, saw tens of thousands of Albanians registering as asylum seekers in Germany, France and other countries.

Immigration possibilities are widely discussed among youngsters, although the government claims that this is "not a problem".

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