Last Jews of Albania are leaving

ROME — The wave of unrest in Albania has forced at least half of the tiny Jewish population there to flee and may dry up the Jewish presence in that country.

Only about 60 Jews were known to be in Albania before the outbreak of violence and armed conflict earlier this year.

By next week, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, fewer than 30 Jews will remain in the country — and they are currently weighing their options.

"We are trying to get the others out," said a JDC representative in Rome.

Albania has teetered on the verge of civil war after a majority of the people there lost money in high-risk pyramid financial schemes that had been endorsed by the government.

Since January, when several of the pyramids collapsed, demonstrators have demanded repayment and called on the government to resign for not protecting the public.

The situation turned more volatile after bands of Albanians seized arms and began controlling large sections of the country.

Some 16 Albanian Jews arrived in Italy last week on 30-day visas, according to the JDC.

They are being housed in the seaside town of Ladispoli, near Rome, which in the 1980s was the site of housing for thousands of transient Jews emigrating from the former Soviet Union.

Six more Albanian Jews are expected to arrive in Italy after the Passover holiday.

"They came out because of the danger," the JDC representative said.

"The idea is for them to be here for a while, away from the chaos, and to give them the opportunity to take stock of the situation and think about their future."

Some of those leaving Albania are considering the possibility of resettling in Israel.

Two Albanian Jewish families went to Israel just before Passover, and one left for Russia, where they have family ties.

The JDC representative said that the organization had sent matzah and other Passover supplies to those Jews remaining in Albania.

But the JDC's plans to send a young Italian Jew to the Albanian capital of Tirana to help with Passover celebrations, as had been done last year, had to be scrapped because the situation in Albania had become too dangerous, according to the JDC representative.