Emergency relief for those affected on the ground
On 26 November last year, in the middle of the night, people were torn from their sleep by a devastating earthquake. Many people lost their lives, thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed as a result. If we look around us, we can still feel it – the suffering, the fear, the devastation – it is all still too raw to forget. When I saw the images of this disaster unfolding, it was clear to me that we had to help. Within the space of just a few hours, a team from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit left Switzerland for Tirana. In these difficult times, there was no question that Switzerland would stand side by side with Albania, its long-standing partner.
Our staff on site were in permanent contact with cooperation partners and the local authorities to ensure that aid reached those who needed it most. We were able to provide such fast and uncomplicated aid as we were able to draw on years of experience of working together. It is the result of a bond of friendship between Switzerland and Albania fostered over the last 50 years.
Rebuilding housing and future prospects
However, this is a relationship that goes beyond emergency relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. We are talking about a long-term partnership. So our cooperation efforts did not stop at emergency relief. Once the immediate crisis was over, we began exploring ways of helping the Albanian people to rebuild their lives in the longer term. Among other things, we contributed 10.2 million Swiss francs at the International Donors' Conference in Brussels in February of this year. This fund will help repair housing damaged by the earthquake. Homes like the ones around us.
Dear Mr Ahmetaj, allow me to take this opportunity to thank you most sincerely for your extraordinary commitment and efforts in coordinating this project as Minister for Reconstruction. We can see it with our own eyes: the reconstruction work being undertaken by the Albanian government is progressing, and Switzerland's aid is reaching the people in need. Yet we want to do more – we want to reduce the risk of damage caused by such disasters in the long term. We must therefore take the necessary precautions today to identify those risks and take measures to minimise damage and prevent such suffering in the future.
Albania remains a priority country for Switzerland
Let me conclude by assuring you that our joint journey does not end here. Switzerland continues to see Albania as a priority country in its international cooperation and development programmes for the Western Balkans. Your country plays a key role in assuring stability and development in the entire region. We are willing to support you in establishing democratic structures and institutions for the best possible integration into the European family. We are proud to accompany Albania on this journey.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to be with you today. 50 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Albania. Half a century of friendly relations! I am delighted to be paying an official visit to mark this anniversary.
To 50 years together!