Twenty :: Albania

‘Twenty’ part 4 :: Albania 1999

‘Twenty’ is an occasional series to mark the first twenty years of my work as a professional photographer.

In the week leading up to Easter 1999, thousands of refugees starting crossing from Kosovo into Albania and Macedonia. With less than twelve hours notice, I flew out to Greece with a Tearfund initial assessment team to report on the situation. We drove up from Athens overland into Albania, through fields studded with row upon row of concrete bunkers facing south, to stop an invasion from Greece that would never come.

In Tirana we saw the work that Tearfund partners were doing to make refugees welcome – one church youth group had been heading out for their annual picnic when the refugees started arriving, and stayed to help, working non-stop for the next three days.

We then drove another eight hours up to the tiny hill-top town of Kukes, which was the first stopping point for refugees arriving from Kosovo, as the border was only a few kilometers further on. We spend maybe three days there, watching vast numbers of people coming through – the figures I’ve seen since suggest around 340,000 people moved through Kukes in three weeks. I have posted briefly about Kukes previously.

I spent part of Easter Sunday morning on my own at the border, just photographing people crossing in their tractors and trailers. It soon became clear that there were hardly any young men – they were all being removed before their families crossed the border. The woman and child pictured below had just crossed into Albania.

Kosovo-Albanian border :: Easter Day 1999 :: copyright Tearfund

Photos: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

Copyright: Tearfund – no reproduction without permission

Refugees driving to Kukes from the Kosovo-Albania border :: 1999 :: copyright Tearfund

Kosovan refugees in Kukes, Albania :: 1999 :: copyright Tearfund

Kosovan refugees in Kukes, Albania :: 1999 :: copyright Tearfund

Kosovan refugees in a former sports club in Tirana, Albania :: 1999 :: copyright Tearfund

A couple of additional technical notes.  This was the first trip that I shot digitally in any meaningful way. I had a Nikon Coolpix 950 (actually rather good for what it was, with a body that swivelled in half), and shot a handful of 2MP frames to send back to the UK for the appeal letter that was being mailed to supporters. I wired via an appalling line in our Tirana hotel, and although the images weren’t great quality, they were used in black and white in the letter that had been printed and distributed before I got back to the office a week later. It was clearly where everything was heading technically. Most of the rest of the trip I shot on Fuji 800 colour neg, which I was increasingly relying on to support the Kodak 100 tranny I had been shooting on – unfortunately, I don’t have access to many of those print images any more.

The other side note for this trip was that I managed to sleep through US Cruise missiles passing over the border one evening when we there – just dozed off in the front of our vehicle… There’s also a long and slightly wandering story about flying out of Albania at the end of the trip – feel free to ask me over a beer sometime if you’re interested.


richard hanson :: photographer :: sheffield