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Tepelena Camp

Emri Tepelena Camp
Vendndodhja: Tepelena
Viti i Ndërtimit: 1949
Viti i Mbylljes: 1953
Burimi i Informacionit: Kastriot Dervishi

Camp no. 4 (later 6), Tepelena, years 1949-1953

This camp started operating in May 1949. It was the internees of the Berat Camp who were transferred to Tepelena. The transfer was marked by a tragedy. During the road, a car fell down and spouses Fadil and Xhuma Petrela lost their lives. Their four minor children entered the camp as orphans – hundreds of mothers left it childless.

The internee caravan’s first stop was Turan village. Later, they were moved near the town, in the six former Italian army barracks, which were populated by 200 inhabitants each. Reports indicate a large concentration of people with bare skin from torn clothes, whereas roll call identified a large number of families of former generals, prime ministers and ministers. Men, women and children over 12 cut wood in the surrounding mountains and transported it on their backs for several kilometres. In August 1950, the number of internees reached 1400, of whom 550 were children. Epidemics, malnutrition, lack of medical aid, as well as mines left underground, took the lives of at least 300 children. Their bodies were moved manually several times and eventually end up by Bënçë River. This happened because the camp’s employees decided one day to remove the buried bodies from a field near the camp to the river. Therefore, the camp’s inhabitants, men and women, were forced to exhume whomever they had recently buried and rebury them at the new spot. This gave rise to a new epidemic and the camp’s death rate increased.

The Tepelena Camp was identified by two numbers, four and six. The camp was led by two commanders: Bektash Pogaçe (1949-1952) and Haki Ibrahimi (1952-1953), both with incomplete education. Internees lived isolated, whereas the enclosure was guarded by armed soldiers. The camp’s officials were ruthless in forcing internees face the work with no objection. The punishment for those who showed disobedience was cruel. The most common punishment was tying the individual with a strong wire tightly so as the wire could reach the bones, and then locking the person in a cell indefinitely. There was practically no healthcare provisions in the camp. Medicine was basically inexistent, a doctor would visit the camp quite rarely and the internees would not dare ask for medical treatment out of fear of retaliation. According to testimonies, those who were sent to the Gjirokastra Hospital would never return. They would simply vanish.

The high mortality of children in the Tepelena Camp, as well as the need to consolidate the institution of internment, brought about the closing of the last two barbed-wire camps by the end of 1953. As researcher Kastriot Dervishi highlights, the Tepelena Camp earned a negative reputation in the international arena, even being mentioned in a U.S. Government report submitted to the United Nations in February 1955.