Albanian immigration

2011-01-17 08:21:41

Albanians began immigrating to North America in significant numbers around 1900, though thousands returned to their homeland after World War I (1914–18). Yugoslav attempts to purge the Kosovo Province of ethnic Albanians in 1999 created a new wave of immigration. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 113,661 Americans and fewer than 15,000 Canadians claimed Albanian descent. The greater Boston area has been from the first the center of Albanian-American culture, with other significant concentrations in New York City; Jamestown and Rochester in New York State; Chicago, Illinois; and Detroit, Michigan. Metropolitan Toronto is the center of Canadian settlement, especially the Mississauga area.
Albania occupies 10,600 square miles of the western Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It lies along the Adriatic Sea between 41 and 43 degrees north latitude and is bordered by Greece on the south, Serbia and Montenegro on the north, and Macedonia on the east. The land is dominated by rugged hills and mountains, with a narrow coastal plain. In 2002, the population was estimated at 3,510,484. Albanians are religiously divided, with some 70 percent Muslim, 20 percent Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic. The two major ethnic groups are the Gegs, inhabiting the most isolated northern portions of the region, and the Tosks, occupying the more accessible southern area. These and smaller related groups have throughout most of their history been subjects of Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Goths, Bulgarians, Slavs, Normans, and Serbs. When Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century, the majority of Albanians converted to Islam, though Orthodox and Roman Catholic minorities remained strong. Albania gained its independence in 1913, though large numbers of Albanians remained within the neighboring country of Serbia (later Yugoslavia), with most concentrated in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
The earliest Albanian immigrant to the United States came in the mid-1870s, though there were only about 40 by the turn of the century. The first substantial wave of immigrants were largely young Orthodox Tosk laborers, escaping civil war (1904–14) and seeking ways to support their families, who remained in Europe. As with many eastern European groups, most early immigrants were young men who hoped to earn money before returning home. Of the 30,000 Albanians in the United States in 1919, only 1,000 were women. As many as 10,000 Albanians are estimated to have returned to their homeland shortly after World War I. Between World War I and World War II (1939–45), a new wave of Tosks arrived in the United States, with most intending to settle.
Immediately after World War II, the majority of Albanians coming to North America were escaping the rigidly orthodox rule of the marxist government. Most settled in urban areas. Between 1946 and 1992, Albania was ruled by a Communist government that discouraged emigration. During the 1960s and 1970s, it was closely associated with Chinese, rather than Russian, communism but became largely independent of all communist nations in 1978, remaining one of the poorest of all European countries. The longtime ruler of Albania, Enver Hoxha, died in 1985, and the country began to liberalize. Reforms included allowances for foreign travel and increased communication with other countries. As the Communist regime teetered on the brink of extinction in 1990, thousands of dissidents immigrated to Italy, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France, and Germany. With the fall of the government in early 1992, a massive migration was unleashed, estimated at 500,000 (1990–96). Most settled in Greece (300,000) or Italy (150,000), but a significant number immigrated to the Western Hemisphere. Between 1990 and 1995, about 7,000 Albanians, including many professionals, emigrated.
Tracing early Albanian immigration to Canada is difficult, as prior to 1981, Albanians were classified either as “Other” or “Balkans.” The earliest immigrants probably came in the 1890s, though they may have numbered 100 or fewer. As in the United States, most returned to Europe after 1914. Immigration remained small throughout the communist years, though some ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia managed to leave Yugoslavia. Of Canada’s 5,280 Albanian immigrants in 2001, fewer than 400 arrived prior to 1990.
An economic crisis in 1996 led the country into violent rebellion and political disarray, which were eventually stabilized by United Nations troops. By 1998, widespread killing of Albanian-speaking Muslims in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo led to a massive international crisis, with more than 1 million Kosovars left homeless, displaced, or in refugee camps outside the country. In May 1999, Canada accepted some 7,500 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, though eventually almost 2,000 chose to return to their homeland (redefined as an autonomous region in Serbia and Montenegro) after the fall of president Slobodan Miloˇsevi´c. After housing some refugees in primitive conditions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. government in April 1999 agreed to provide 20,000 annual refugee visas, with preference given to those with family connections in the United States and others who were particularly vulnerable to persecution. Between 1996 and 2002, annual immigration averaged more than 4,100. As a result, the number of Albanians in the United States more than doubled between 1990 (47,710) and 2000 (113,661).