A while ago, a friend of mine asked me if I could recommend a cleaning lady, because the women who took care of his apartment was leaving for Italy. And when in a staff meeting last summer my boss declared that one of our colleagues was going to Bologna to do a Master’s, the first comment was: Oh, yet another Moldovan in Italy! Only during the two years that I have been here, three of my friends have moved abroad (and take into account that my circle of friends here is not that big).
Despite Moldova having a per capita income that is only about 1/16 of that of Sweden, this was the first thing that struck me as being really different when I arrived here: The fact that everyone, from the farmers that I meet in the field to my colleagues in the office, has either lived abroad for a period of time or has a family member abroad. And it completely defines the country and its people’s view of it. I promised a few months ago that I would write something on Moldova’s migration and so I will make an attempt now, though it is such complex issue so I am not sure I will do it justice.
First a little data: It is estimated that approximately a quarter to a third of Moldova’s labour force lives abroad during a given year. This does not mean that all of them have settled abroad, many of them are seasonally employed in Russia and other close countries with low visa and travel costs. Others have however since long settled in the destination countries and have brought their families over, and are no longer part of the statistics. About one third of all children in Moldova grow up without at least one parent. Many grow up with their grandparents, a few in orphanages.
Emigrate to Canada? I pass this poster every day on my
way to work.
The other side of this is of course that the Moldovans working abroad send money home, the so called remittances. Whether or not all this money coming back to Moldova should be defined as remittances, or if it is just salaries that the migrants put on their own accounts, or if it is perhaps small-scale foreign direct investments, is debated here. Regardless of the technicalities, this money makes up for more than one third of Moldova’s GDP. It has over the past decade reduced poverty, driven growth, and brought money to the Government’s budget through especially taxes on imported goods.
Only in this corner, there are three exchange offices and one Western
Union office. All for those receiving money from abroad.
Most of the Moldovans that go abroad end up in Russia or in Italy and work in the construction, in light industries, or in domestic services. In the past, the majority of them were men from rural areas, but this is changing. More women are leaving and many migrants are now from the cities. The Moldovan migrants are fairly well-educated, with 35% having tertiary education and 20% university education. The trafficking of especially girls for sexual exploitation still exists but it is a very small share of those who migrate and information campaigns have almost managed to eradicate it (even though one victim is of course still one too many).
Another poster that I pass every morning and evening:
For work in Dubai.
Yet, this is a tragedy at a personal level for so many here. Families are split, children do not see their parents for years, and it is like the Moldovans’ self esteem as a people is very much marked by this. Every time I meet a new Moldovan, he or she brings up the topic of the migrants. It is like their country is bleeding and it just won’t stop. And it is not just the people going, and their close ones that they leave behind. Everyone here feels so with those that have had to leave and the hard life that have met so many of them in the countries that they end up in.
At the same time, so many more wants to leave. More than a million Moldovans have applied or want to apply for Romanian citizenship, which of course gives access to the EU’s labour market. And the EU needs labour from Moldovan. While the Polish workers are in Sweden and Germany, Moldovan workers are in Poland. And while the Italian government is trying to figure out how to deal with the inverse population pyramid and the fact that Italian women no longer want to stay at home and take care of the family, Moldovan women are there, taking care Italy’s elders.
Go West to the US?
More often than not, the Moldovans end up working illegally in these countries, which puts them at higher risks of being exploited and without being able to go back to Moldova on a regular basis. It also finances illegal structures and criminal networks, and give rise to corruption in public authorities. Issuing work permits is often politically very sensitive in many Western countries, but it is often a much better solution in terms of encouraging circulatory of migrants as it facilitates for the migrants to keep in touch with their country of origin and to go back on a regular basis. Because very few of those who leave wants to move away for good. Fortunately, the EU is starting to realize all this and is increasingly offering temporary work permits (integrating foreign workers in the legal workforce helps of course also to bring tax money to the countries of destination).
But it is sad that it has to be like this. As my German friend Linda said the other day: Moldova is such a nice country, it is just so sad that so many Moldovans cannot enjoy it. But when a primary school teacher’s monthly salary is EUR 30 and a government employee earns EUR 150 per month, staying in Moldova is for many not an option. Making sure that their children get an education and have shoes and a jacket for the winter is prioritized even if it means leaving the kids with their grandparents and perhaps not seeing them for many years.
So the Moldovans mourn the people that have had to leave. And it makes me sad. But it also fills me with admiration. The fact that so many are willing to risk so much to make a better future for themselves and their close ones says something about a people. The Moldovans are not just sitting and waiting for things to get better – they take control over their own life and make things happen. So I am filled with hope for Moldova’s future. I just hope that external forces will not work against it.
More information on Moldovan migration can be found on IOM Moldova’s website. The New Yorker also recently published an article on Moldovan countertraffickers, whose work is to bring Moldovan trafficking victims back home. And finally an article from Washington Post about recent, worrisome, political trends in the EU.