“The route is full of dangers. In summer there are usually soldiers guarding the footpaths who arrest anyone trying to get through illegally. There are just as many armed bandits lurking too, waiting to pounce and rob the illegal migrant of what little he owns. Whoever refuses to empty his pockets gets the thrashing of his life. In winter there are fewer soldiers, fewer bandits. Instead it’s a toss-up between dying in the snow or being eaten by wolves.”
Change a few details, and this could easily be a description of the perils facing undocumented immigrants as they cross from Mexico into the U.S. But the writer is Albanian, and the route he describes is his own passage from his native country to neighboring Greece, which he entered illegally in 1991.
“A Short Border Handbook” (published in the U.K. by Portobello Books), a new book by journalist Gazmend Kapllani, reminds us that the experiences often associated with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are endemic to all who leave their homeland and show up in a new country “uninvited.” Using a blunt style and, at times, dark humor, Kapllani’s short book tells the story of walking to Greece in 1991 after the government of Albania opened its borders following the fall of the country’s totalitarian Communist regime.
“The fact that you arrived uninvited makes you feel uncomfortable, and deeply guilty, and you may never get over that feeling. Because apart from everything else, they won’t let you forget it. This is your original sin,” he writes.
Kapllani entered Greece illegally along with thousands of other Albanians who for years had been barred by their own government not just from crossing the border, but even from going near it. Once in Greece he found a life that was different than the one he left behind, but not necessarily easier. The borders that had confined him for most of his life were replaced by new barriers.