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37 Albanian Jews Arrive in New York to Reunite with Family After 25 Years

Thirty-seven Jews from Albania arrived at Kennedy International Airport here Wednesday afternoon for a joyous reunion with relatives whom they had not seen in 25 years.

The coordinated efforts of several American Jewish organizations were responsible.

The new arrivals, members of an extended family, are among the first Jews to have left Albania, a Balkan nation of 3.3 million isolated under a Stalinist dictatorship for 40 years.

Though still governed by the Communist Party, the country is undergoing liberalization. Most of its 300 Jews immigrated to Israel in March and April.

The Jews who landed here on Pan Am Flight 111 left Tirana, the Albanian capital, in December for Rome, to be processed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. They were granted admission to America for family reunification.

During their six-month stay in Rome, they were helped by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC. Their immigration to the United States was facilitated by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

On arrival here, they became clients of NYANA, the New York Association of New Americans, which will assist them in finding jobs and living quarters. And the American Sephardi Federation, the association of Sephardic Jews in the United States, is helping them adjust to life. here.

But the successful emigration effort was the culmination of work begun in the summer of 1990 by the American relatives of the Albanian family, who asked to remain unnamed.

FLED NAZI-OCCUPIED GREECE

The Jews of Albania were originally from Ioannina, Greece. They fled into Albania when Greece was occupied by the Nazis in 1941.

After World War II, the repressive regime of the late Enver Hoxha prevented them from leaving the country. But some managed to repatriate to Greece and came to the United States in 1966.

Last summer, the patriarch of the American branch of the family, who is in his 80s, went to Greece to visit a son. While there, he visited the local HIAS office to register the names of family members in Albania.

They held dual Albanian-Greek citizenship. When he returned from Greece, the family head approached the JDC, which had some contacts with Albanian Jews over the years. For immigration purposes, they directed him to HIAS in New York.

The time-consuming work of documenting each family member in Albania and his or her relationship to the American family began.

Fortuitously, Albania relaxed its exit requirements at the end of 1990. All but one of the families received passports for the adults and laissez-passer documents for the children.

The remaining family did not have an American sponsor to obtain documents, so HIAS became its sponsor. The agency’s Geneva office also arranged transportation out of Albania and Italian transit visas.

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