abandoning rural albania

Poverty and high unemployment rates have driven thousands of Albanians to leave the country, seeking a better life in the European Union. In villages in northern Albania like Shishtavec and Novosej more than half the population has left. Most that seek asylum in the European Union are rejected. In Germany the government is working to declare Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro as “safe” countries as a way to speed up deportations. Reporter Katrin Kuntz and I traveled to Shishtavec and Novosej for Der Spiegel to show what thousands of Albanians have left behind. In Novosej we met the Tafaj family treshing rye in the field. At 23-years-old Mali has considered leaving to Germany. A college graduate, he has been unable to find work in Albania, and feels the need to step up and support his aging parents who still work in the field everyday to provide for the family of five.

Shishtavec, Albania
Badi Tafaj, 20, threshes rye with her family near the village of Novosej, Albania. Tafaj says life in the village is very hard but leaving would be difficult for her since she feels a responsibility to help her parents.
A young girl peers out from behind a gate in Shishtavec, Albania.
An old building that used to be a hotel now houses a bar named Beshiroski in Shishtavec, Albania. The bar has been open since 1936.
Form left, Silva Draga, 14, Hakim Draga, 12, and Nivers Kingji, 14, hang out in Shishtavec, Albania. The boys live in England but were back visiting family in the village.
A young boy looks at a house that is now abandoned after its inhabitants moved away from the village of Shishtavec, Albania.
A man passes the afternoon watching music videos at Bar Beshiroski in Shishtavec, Albania.
Shishtavec, Albania
From left, Besat Tafaj, 14, works on the farm with his parents Bayran Tafaj and Nadire Tafaj near the village of Novosej, Albania.
Boys play soccer near the only school in Novosej, Albania. The school also serves much of the surrounding area. In recent years many residents of the area have immigrated to the European Union and smaller village schools have closed.
A woman dries birch leaves for medicinal uses in Shishtavec, Albania. She is the only one in the family left in Shishtavec, as the rest of her family has immigrated to Germany.
Mali Tafaj, 23, works on the farm with his family near the village of Novosej, Albania. As his parents age Tafaj says he feels a sense of responsibility to step up and care for the family and has considered moving to the European Union to look for a more lucrative job. Although he went to college in Albania and has a degree, he has been unable to find work.
Badi Tafaj, 20, and her brother Besat Tafaj, 14, at their family's home in the village of Novosej, Albania.
A new road is being constructed between Kukes and villages like Shishtavec and Novosej so construction jobs are some of the few available other than agriculture in the rural area.