Dear Albanian friends,
Albania is going through one of the most tragic episodes of its recent history. My first words are to express, on behalf of the European Union, and on a personal level, my deepest sympathy and condolences.
Families, friends and communities have suffered losses which are devastating. The personal stories that we have heard in the past week have shaken all of us to the core.
I would like to share a thought for the Lala family in Durres and the Cara family in Thumanë, which have lost 9 and 8 of their members. Such tragedies go beyond what can be possibly imagined or expressed.
The young couple, Almir and Lorena, soon to be married. Diena, her daughter and her mother. Xhesika, who passed away in Tirana on Saturday.
51 heart-breaking stories that are impossible to forget and have affected Albania and the rest of Europe. Your pain is our pain. Your sadness is our sadness.
I also offer the heartfelt sympathy of the European Union to the hundreds of Albanians who were injured by the earthquake and the thousands who cannot go back home yet. We are working non-stop to help Albanian authorities ensure that some normality and life comes back to the devastated areas.
On Tuesday morning, the European Union and its Member States have immediately offered assistance. Once again, the generosity and rapidity of the EU Member States proved that Albania is not only close geographically, but close to our hearts and concerns.
We are proud of the efficiency of our EU Civil Protection mechanism. It took only 18 hours after its activation to set up a team of 11 experts led by Peter Glerum and dispatch them to Albania. Coming from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, they now coordinate the humanitarian response.
I would like to thank the search and rescue teams rapidly deployed by Croatia, France, Greece, Italy and Romania. When disasters hit, you are on the front line. Our admiration and the gratefulness of the Albanian people go to the more than 250 anonymous heroes who have risked their life to save others.
We have now moved to a second phase of our response and assistance: the post disaster assessment of damages. Structural engineers, coming from 6 different countries, are on the ground inspecting damaged buildings. This is ongoing, as I monitored yesterday in Durrës, with prioritisation given to schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure. This phase will last a few days. All areas of concern will be systematically addressed by joint teams of Albanian and international experts.
The EU Civil Protection Team is working closely with local authorities and donors to consolidate the needs assessment with prioritisation of in-kind assistance. We are already grateful to Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to have provided tents, beds, sleeping bags and other items. They are essential to the population living through very difficult situations without proper accommodation.
In a third phase, we will look into how the European Union will help Albania rebuild itself with a mid- to long-term perspective. This discussion will start on Thursday with the visit of our new European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič. Planning the reconstruction will require a thorough Post-Disaster Needs Assessment and efficient donor coordination, both of which the EU is ready to support. Solidarity is at the heart of our European Union. It binds together our cultures, ethnicities, and languages. It is at the root of who we are as a continent, following centuries of war and conflict.
We stand for one another. And today we stand for Albania.
This week, we have all been witness to the deep bonds of friendship between the Albanian people and the rest of Europe. 30 years of Albanians studying or living abroad; EU citizens settling in or visiting Albania; the mixed couples; the Erasmus experiences. All of this has created connections and a dense network of sympathy made clear by the spontaneous donations and expressions of solidarity everywhere in Europe. In the midst of sorrow, grief and fear, this week has shown the unfailing links between Albanians and their friends in the EU.
Our hearts have also been warmed by the immediate mobilisation of the civil society - thousands of incredible acts of sharing and kindness from Albanians to their fellow citizens.
Few in Europe have endured what Albanians have been through in the past century. Even before this tragedy, daily life is often a struggle for many. But we know that Albanians are strong and resilient people. Through hardship, your spirit has not been broken. As President von der Leyen stated, we want you to know that the European Union is by your side with compassion and action. We will stand with you to help Albania recover from this disaster.