The Albanian diaspora (Albanian: Mërgata Shqiptare or Diaspora Shqiptare) refers to the Albanians and their descendants living outside of Albania, including Kosovo and the minorities in Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The largest communities of the Albanian diaspora are particularly found in Italy, Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. Other important and increasing communities includes in Australia, Canada, France, Belgium, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The Albanian diaspora is large and continues to grow, with Albanians now present in significant numbers in numerous countries, primarily in Europe and the Americas.

The phenomenon of migration from Albania is recorded since the early Middle Ages, when numerous Albanians immigrated to southern Italy and Greece to escape either various socio-political difficulties and the Ottoman conquest. The modern Albanian diaspora has been largely formed since 1991, following the end of communism in Albania. Over 800,000 Albanians have left the country, mostly settling in Greece and Italy either permanently or as temporary workforce.[1][2]

In regard to the Kosovo-Albanian diaspora, more than one million Albanians have left Kosovo since the late 1980s permanently, excluding those fleeing the Kosovo War, who have subsequently returned.[3] Further, important destinations for emigrating Albanians from Kosovo have been mostly Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Portugal.[4]


Distribution of ethnic Albanians in Europe.

In Albania, emigration dates back to the 15th century when many Albanians emigrated to Calabria in Southern Italy and Greece after the defeat of the country by Ottoman forces. Other popular destinations were Turkey, Bulgaria, and later the United States and South America. Following the communist take over after World War II, emigration was outlawed and violations severely punished. At the same time, Albanian birth rates in both Albania and Kosovo were among the highest in Europe (see Demographics of Albania and Kosovo), and the economies were among the weakest (especially under the Hoxha regime), leading to a huge young population in both regions and a consequently huge demand for emigration once the borders were opened in the 1990s. Two major emigration waves in the 1990s were:

  • The Albanian population in Turkey was created in three large waves of emigration in different period times. The first one was the deportation of Albanian from Kosovo in 1910, when 120.000 thousand Albanians were deported in Turkey by the Serbian authority. The second one was in 1926-1938, about 400.000 emigrated to Turkey. The last one was after World War II, in 1953-1966, when nearly 400.000 were forced to emigrate to Turkey from Kosovo.[5]
  • Post-1990 wave prior to the collapse of communism in Albania in the form of break-ins at foreign embassies and departures by ship, esp. to Italy.
  • Post-1997 wave following the 1997 unrest in Albania and the Kosovo War (1998–99).

The preference for Italy, Greece and Western European countries during the first waves of emigration has given way to Canada and the United States due to stricter European immigration laws.

The rate of emigration has gradually decreased during the later 2000s, with a sudden increase in 2014-15.[6]


In Albania, it is estimated that emigrant remittances account for 18% of GDP or $530 million annually, though declining in the late 2000s.[7] Those who have come back have opened micro-enterprises, while the proximity of Greece and Italy to Albania where more than half of immigrants are located has contributed to continuous labor mobility.[8] Recently, following the 2010–2011 Greek Crisis, many Albanian emigrants have returned either temporarily or permanently to Albania.[9] The mass emigration of the 1990s to early 2000s has resulted in massive brain drain to Albania. In the period 1990–2003, an estimated 45% of Albania's academics emigrated, as did more than 65% of the scholars who received PhDs in the West in the period 1980–1990.[10] In 2006, a "brain gain" program compiled by Albanian authorities and the UNDP was put into action to encourage the skilled diaspora to contribute to the country's development, though its success remains to be seen.

The willingness to emigrate also has an impact on the sense of cultural identity. While in Kosovo and Macedonia, Albanian ("Illyrian") and Muslim Albanian names still are quite common, in Albania proper, Albanian or Muslim names are barely given since the fall of the Communist dictatorship and the opening of the borders. Many Albanians don't want to be noticed as Albanian in the countries where they want to emigrate to. In 2014, among the 20 most commonly used given names for newborn children in Albania, there was not a single Albanian name. Instead, "international" (Greek, Italian and English) or Christian names, got quite common.[11] Many Albanian migrants also change their religion from Islam to Christianity:[12] After migration to Italy or Greece, they get baptized and change their Albanian names in their passport to Christian ones.



In 1636, the Mandritsa, a typical village in Bulgaria, was found by Eastern Orthodox Albanian dairymen who supplied the Ottoman Army. They were allowed to pick a tract of land and were freed from taxes. In the 2001 census of Bulgaria, it was estimated that 278 Albanians live in the country.


There are Albanian immigrants, who have entered Greece in large numbers since the fall of the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, forming the largest single expatriate group in the country today. After the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a large number of economic refugees and immigrants from Greece's neighboring countries, Albania, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Romania, as well as from more distant countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, arrived in Greece, mostly as illegal immigrants, to seek employment. The vast majority of the Albanians in Greece is estimated to be between 65–70% of the total number of immigrants in the country. According to the 2001 census, there are 443,550 holders of Albanian citizenship in Greece, with the total of Albanian immigrants in Greece numbering well over 650,000.[13] It is an estimated that 189,000 Albanian nationals in Greece belong to the Greek National Minority of Albania.

Albanians in Greece are by far the most integrated, legal and settled community: Even before emigration, more and more people in the south of Albania are pretending to be Greeks, and even are changing their Muslim names to Greek ones in order to not being discriminated against in Greece. By this way, they hope to get a visa for Greece.[14]


The Albani were an aristocratic Roman family, members of which attained the highest dignities in the Roman Catholic Church, one, Clement XI, having been Pope. They were ethnic Albanians who originally moved to Urbino from the region of Malësi e Madhe in Albania.[15] and had been soldiers of Scanderbeg against the Ottoman Empire. Though eventually assimilated in their Italian environment, Clement XI's Albanian antecedents were evident in his having commissioned, during his reign as a Pope, the famous Illyricum Sacrum. Today it is one of the main sources of the field of Albanology, with over 5000 pages divided in several volumes written by Daniele Farlati and Dom. Coletti.

There is an Albanian community in southern Italy, known as Arbëreshë, who had settled in the country in the 15th and the 16th century, displaced by the changes brought about by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Some managed to escape and were offered refuge from the repression by the Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily (both under Aragonese rule), where the Arbëreshë were given their own villages and protected.[16] The Arbëreshë were estimated as numbering at a quarter million in the 1976.[17]

After the breakdown of the communist regime in Albania in 1990, Italy had been the main immigration target for Albanians leaving their country. This was because Italy had been a symbol of the West for many Albanians during the communist period, because of its geographic proximity. Italy reacted to the migration pressure by introducing the "Martelli" law, stipulating that any immigrant who could prove that he or she had come into the country before the end of 1989 be granted a two-year residency permit. From March 1997, Italy instituted a strict patrol of the Adriatic in an attempt to curb Albanian immigration. As a result, many Albanian immigrants in Italy do not have a legal status. Out of an estimated 450,000 Albanian immigrants in Italy in 1998, only some 82,000 were registered with authorities. In total there are 800,000 Albanians in Italy.[18]

The Italian Government has housed significant numbers of Albanians from Kosovo in the Arbëresh settlements, most notably in Piana degli Albanesi in Sicily.


Turkey has about five million citizens of full or partial Albanian descent,[19] and most still feel a connection to Albania. There is also a strong Turkish minority in Kosovo. The bond between these two nations stems from historical reasons, especially since many Albanians embraced Islam, the official religion of the Ottoman Empire.

Albania was the last nation in southeastern Europe to claim independence from the Ottoman Empire, on 28 November 1912. To this day, relations between the two countries are excellent, with Turkey being one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo, and with polls showing that Turks are one of the best-received ethnic groups in Albania.

Many Albanians emigrated to Turkey between 1950 and 1970. In that period, Islam in Yugoslavia was repressed, and both Albanians and Muslim Slavs were encouraged to declare themselves Turkish and emigrate to Turkey. In the 1990s, Turkey received a wave of Kosovar refugees, fleeing from conflict. Today, the number of ethnic Albanians in Turkey is estimated to be around 500,000.[20]


There are an estimated 300,000 Albanians living in Germany. They mostly migrated to Germany from Kosovo during the 1990s.


There are an estimated 250,000 ethnic Albanians in Switzerland, most of them from Kosovo, a sizeable minority arriving from Macedonia.[21] Albanians have migrated to Switzerland since the 1960s,[22] but bulk of immigration took place during the 1990s, especially during 1998–1999. They account for about 2% of total Swiss population, making them the third largest immigrant community in Switzerland, after the Italian and German ones. The Albanian language is the second largest immigrant language spoken in Switzerland, following Serbo-Croatian. About 40,000 have been naturalized as Swiss citizens during the 1990s and 2000s, while an estimated 150,000 remain registered as nationals of either Serbia and Montenegro (carrying passports issued during the existence of that country, 1992–2006), the Republic of Kosovo (34,000 Kosovar passports registered with the Swiss authority by August 2010), the Republic of Macedonia, or Albania.


The Albanian Orthodox cathedral of St. George in South Boston, MA


As defined by the Statistics Canada in 2011, there were 28,270 Canadians claiming an Albanian ancestry.[23] There have been Albanian settlers in Canada since at least the early 20th century, following internal pre-war revolutionary upheavals. The majority of the Albanian immigrants settled in either Montreal or Toronto but also in Calgary and Peterborough.

After the inter-ethnic conflict between ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Serbian military and police forces, many Albanians left Kosovo as refugees. Some have come to Canada, and in 1999 the Canadian government created a program to offer safe haven to 7000 Kosovar Albanian refugees. However, they continue to appreciate their ethnic heritage and their Albanian national history, even though their ancestors may have left Albania several decades ago. Those Albanians from Albania proper are active in their business and social organizations.

United States

Albanians began to settle in the USA in the late 19th-20th centuries from Southern Albania, Greece, Turkey, Southern Italy and Kosovo, and in the 1990s from Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia, and refugees of war. The largest Albanian American (incl. Kosovar Albanian) populations are in New York City, Boston, Detroit, and Chicago. Another Albanian American community in Southern California such as the Los Angeles area. The Inland Empire (Riverside/San Bernardino) area of California includes Kosovars who entered the United States at the March Joint Air Reserve Base in Riverside. The Albanian-American population is currently 113,661 or 0.04% of the US population.


Country Albanian population Percentage Source
Neighbor countries
 Albania 2,753,174 (2011 census) 98.32% [24]
 Kosovo[a] 1,616,869 (2011 census) 92.93% [25]
 Macedonia 509,083 (2002 census) 25.17% [26]
 Greece 480,824 (2011 census, Albanian citizenship) to 600,000[13] 4.45% [27]
 Montenegro 30,439 (2011 census) 4.91% [28]
Other countries
 Italy 502,546 (2015 statistics, Albanian citizenship) to 800,000 [with Arbereshe, dual citizens and undocumented] [29]
 Turkey 500,000 to 5 million Turks are of Albanian origin(2007) [30]
 Germany 300,000 (2010) [31]
 United States 172,149 (2006-2010 ACS) 0.06% [32]
  Switzerland 94,937 (2000 census) to 300,000 (recent estimations) 3.75% [33]
 Serbia 60,809 (2011 census) 0.85% [34]
 Argentina 40,000 [35]
 Canada 31,030 (2011 survey) 0.09% [36]
 United Kingdom 28,820 (2011 census) 0.05% [37][38][39]
 Austria 28,212 (2001 census) 0.35% [40]
 France 20,531 (2011 census) 0.41% [41]
 Croatia 17,531 (2011 census) 0.41% [42]
 Australia 13,142 (2011 census) 0.06% [43]
 Finland 8,214 (2014 statistics, mother tongue) 0.15% [44]
 Belgium 7,183 (2010 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.07% [45]
 Slovenia 6,186 (2002 census) 0.31% [46]
 Slovakia 5,851 (2001) [47][48]
 Sweden 5,439 (2013 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.06% [49]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 4,295 (1991 census) 0.1% [50]
 Ukraine 3,308 (2001 census) 0.01% [51]
 Denmark 2,560 (2014 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.05% [52]
 Luxembourg 2,144 (2016 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.37% [53]
 Spain 1,787 [54]
 Ireland 1,764 (2011 census) 0.04% [55]
 Netherlands 1,638 (2013 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.01% [56]
 Norway 1,537 (2014 statistics, Albanian/Kosovar citizenship) 0.03% [57]
 Czech Republic 673 (2011 census) 0.01% [58]
 Romania 520 (2002 census) 0% [59]
 Poland 430 (2011 census) 0% [60]
 Bulgaria 278 (2001 census) 0% [61]
 New Zealand 246 total, as high as 15,000 (includes Albanians from Croatia and Italy which migrated in the 18th and 19th centuries) (2013 census) 0.01% [62]
 Moldova 204 (1989 census) 0% [63]
 Lithuania 14 (2011 census) 0% [64]
 Latvia 13 (2014 statistics) 0% [65]
 Uzbekistan 16 (1989 census) 0% [66]
 Estonia 12 (2011 census) 0% [67]
 Iceland 12 (2011 census, Albanian citizenship) 0% [68]
 Turkmenistan 6 (1995 census) 0% [69]
 Belarus 3 (2009 census) 0% [70]

Return Migration

Emigration has been one of the main causes that has driven the decline of the number of Albanian population during 2002-2011. The phenomenon of migration in Albania Immigration has been common. In most cases it has been taken by males, however gender differences in the last census period 2001-2011 are not that pronounced. According to INSTAT during this period about 481.000 Albanians left and 243,000 of them were male. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developing countries most preferred destination for emigrants were Italy and Greece, followed by United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), and Germany. Italy is the country of destination preferred by 47 percent of immigrants, followed by Greece with 43 percent of emigrants, and the United United States (US) coming up as a third destination. Regarding the return, data Population and Housing Census 2011 show that about 139,827 Albanians were returned to Albania in the period 2001-2011, mostly male. Returnees are relatively young and working age. Employment and family reasons dominate among the reasons to return. In this sense, the return migration captured in the census is a snapshot of continuous circular migration. The National Research survey demonstrates that a total of 133,544 Albanian immigrants aged 18 years and above are turning in Albania in 2009-2013, of which 98,414 men and 35,130 women. This is a big difference report of returnees by sex, where men are over represented compared with women, 73.7% and 26.3% respectively. Since 2009 there has been a growing trend of returns, while the majority of the returns occurred in 2012 and 2013 (53.4 percent). Returns, dominated voluntary returns (94 percent) occurred in Greece, 70.8 percent to 23.7 percent followed by Italy and other countries like the UK, Germany, etc. Therefore, it can be argued that returns in Albania are mainly a consequence of the global financial crisis of 2009 that hit the market. The survey findings show that the main reasons for emigration from Albania have been unemployment in the country and opportunities for better employment abroad along with opportunities for higher incomes. No significant gender difference in immigration is a reason, besides family reunion that seems to have been the main reason for migration. On return, the main reasons include loss of employment in the country immigration, the longing for family and country, as well as problems faced by the family in Albania. Other reasons for return include better employment opportunities in Albania, investment plans or health problems.[71]

Notable people

  • Ernesto Sabato - Arbëreshë/ Argentine poet, physicist and writer
  • Sedefkar Mehmed Agha - architect of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the "Blue Mosque") in Istanbul.
  • Fatmire Bajramaj - female football player. She moved to 1. FFC Frankfurt for the 2011–12 season: the transfer is the most expensive in women's Bundesliga history.
  • Giorgio Basta - Italian general of Arbëreshë descent, employed by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to command Habsburg forces in the Long War of 1591–1606 and later to administer Transylvania as an Imperial vassal to restore Catholicism as a predominant religion in Transylvania.
  • James Belushi - Albanian-American Hollywood actor.
  • John Belushi - Albanian-American Hollywood actor.
  • Mother Teresa (born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) – was a Catholic nun of Albanian ethnicity and Indian citizenship, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.
  • Ermal Frasheri - International law and development expert. He received his S.J.D. from Harvard Law School, and is a fellow at the Center for International Development at Harvard Kennedy School.
  • Lorik Cana - football player.
  • Edgar Cani - footballer.
  • Francesco Crispi - Italian politician of Arberesh ancestry. He was instrumental in the unification of Italy and was its 17th and 20th Prime Minister from 1887 until 1891 and again from 1893 until 1896.
  • Joe DioGuardi - Albanian-American certified public accountant and a Republican politician.
  • Tie Domi - Canadian professional ice hockey player. During a sixteen-year NHL career when he was known for his role as an enforcer, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.
  • Eliza Dushku - Albanian-American actress known for her television roles.
  • Lee Elia - Albanian-American former professional baseball player and manager in Major League Baseball.
  • Farouk I of Egypt - (11 February 1920 – 18 March 1965), Tenth ruler (Muhammad Ali Dynasty) and penultimate King of Egypt and Sudan, 1936, was of Albanian, Egyptian and Turkish descent.
  • Mit’hat Frashëri - Diplomat, writer and politician. The son of Abdyl Frashëri, one of the most important activists of the Albanian National Awakening in 1908 he participated in the Congress of Monastir.
  • Mark Gjonaj - United States politician in the New York State Assembly.
  • Antonio Gramsci - Arbereshe writer, politician, political theorist, linguist and philosopher.
  • William G. Gregory - First Albanian-American in space.
  • Ismail Kadare - Famous writer.
  • Kledi Kadiu - Dancer and choreographer.
  • Giorgio Kastriota, known as Scanderbeg (~Iskander Bey) - a 15th-century Lord, who as leader of the federation of the League of Lezhë defended the region of Albania against the Ottoman Empire for more than two decades.
  • Luan Krasniqi - German boxer of Kosovo Albanian descent.
  • Mirela Manjani - is a retired Albanian javelin thrower that represented Greece.
  • Alexander Moissi - Famous stage actor.
  • Inva Mula - opera soprano.
  • Ferid Murad - Albanian-American physician and pharmacologist, and a co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  • Muhammad Ali Pasha - Regarded as the founder of modern Egypt, was a commander of the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II's army sent to drive Napoleon's forces out of Egypt: upon French withdrawal, became Governor of Egypt (1805), then Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan. He founded a dynasty.
  • Klaudio Ndoja - Basketball player.
  • Anna Oxa - Singer born as Anna Hoxha, niece of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
  • Regis Philbin - Albanian-American media personality, actor and singer, known for hosting talk and game shows from the 1960s to the present.
  • Rexhep Qosja - prominent politician and literary critic.
  • Oruç Reis - also called Barbarossa or Redbeard, Turkish privateer and Ottoman Bey (Governor) of Algiers and Beylerbey (Chief Governor) of the West Mediterranean.
  • Girolamo de Rada (Arbëresh: Jeronim de Rada) (1814–1903) was an Italian writer of Italo-Albanian literature of Arbëreshë descent: he was the foremost figure of the Albanian National Awakening in 19th century Italy.
  • Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani – a prominent Muslim cleric.
  • Rita Ora - Kosovar Albanian singer born in Prishtina, Kosovo (then Yugoslavia). Ora's family emigrated to London in 1991, when she was a year old.
  • Dua Lipa - Kosovar Albanian singer

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Further reading

*Dalakoglou The Road: An Ethnography of (Im)mobility, Space and Cross-Border Infrastructures in Albania. Manchester University Press