Accessibility links

Breaking News

Moldova: Crisis Looms As Workforce Flees

Moldovans wait outside the Romanian Embassy in Chisinau for visas in January (AFP) CHISINAU, September 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Aleksandru Shura is close to fulfilling his dream.

In October, the young folk musician will emigrate to Canada, where he has been granted a long-term residence permit. He will thus join the hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who fled hardship and bleak career prospects in their country.

"I've traveled a lot," Shura tells RFE/RL's Romania and Moldova Service. "Gradually, the desire to emigrate arose, because living standards and the conditions offered by the government are much better abroad than in Moldova. There aren't any opportunities here for young people, the salaries are miserly. They are too small to pay even for transport, let alone to eat properly, buy decent clothes, and rent a good home."

Every year, tens of thousands of Moldovans leave their impoverished country to work abroad. Moldova's economy has grown heavily dependent on remittances, but as RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service reports, the mass exodus is generating a severe social backlash in Europe's poorest country.

The collapse of the Soviet Union devastated Moldova's economy and triggered the flight to wealthier countries. Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece, which have linguistic and cultural affinities with Moldova, rank among the most popular destinations.

One In Five Abroad

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Moldovans abroad earn an average of $800 a month -- a small fortune compared to the average monthly salary in Moldova, which hovers around $120.

Remittances sent by relatives working abroad are a major -- and often the only -- source of income for many Moldovan families. They also pump much-needed cash into the country's economy.

Moldova is increasingly worried by the flight of its workforce.

Authorities say 20 percent of the country's active population, or some 300,000 people, currently work abroad. Independent experts, however, estimate that the real figure could be three times higher.

Nearly one third of emigrants are educated Moldovans such as professors, engineers, or doctors who deserted poorly paid jobs in the public sector.

EU Effect

The number of Moldovans seeking to emigrate has soared further this year with Romania's entry into the European Union. Since January, the Romanian Consulate in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, has been swamped by applications for Romanian citizenship.

One in eight of Moldova's 4.3 million citizens has currently applied for a Romanian passport, which Bucharest grants to Moldovans whose parents or grandparents were Romanian citizens before 1940 -- when Moldova was still part of Romania.

Once in possession of an EU passport, however, Moldovans tend to flood to Western European countries rather than settling in poorer Romania.

Long, snaking queues also form every morning outside the Justice Ministry in Chisinau.

Families Separated

Zinaida Istrati, a 48-year-old woman, has come to seek the ministry's mandatory approval for her travel documents.

She abandoned her small village of Telenei four years ago, leaving her four children behind. She now works in Italy after a stint in Russia.

For Istrati, living far away from her country and her family is not a choice but a necessity.

"Only elderly people and small children remain in my village," she says. "Families are falling apart. My husband, for example, works in Russia, and I work in Italy. There is no other choice, because we need to help the children. Moldova can be grateful that people work abroad and return with money. After all, we come back home with a different mentality, we open our own businesses, we pay utility bills. We can't do anything with the salaries they give here."

Every ninth child in Moldova has at least one parent working abroad. Those left without either parent, like Istrati's children, are raised by other relatives. In some cases, they are left completely alone.

Taking A Toll

Thanks to the money sent by their parents, these children are shielded from poverty. But they face other risks.

Lucia Savca, the director of Moldova's Association of Psychologists, says the lack of parental guidance makes children psychologically and sociably vulnerable.

"We see many female teenagers who already have an active sexual life in the seventh or even the fifth grade, and sometimes even have had abortions," Savca says. "Why do they start their sexual life so early? Because they are not getting enough care and affection. In the absence of parents, they look for a substitute to give them the close contact which they are missing."

Savca also says much of the money earned abroad is wasted as children are put in charge of overseeing expenses at home.

"Parents compensate for their feeling of guilt toward their children by sending them money, but they don't check how this money is spent," Savca says. "For children, this money simply falls from the sky. A teenager is able buy himself a $200 mobile phone with the money sent by his father, whereas his mother has nothing to feed him."

With Moldova's economy in tatters, the mass exodus of Moldovans and the resulting social disintegration appear unlikely to abate.

Romania's entry into the European Union could, on the contrary, swell the ranks of those who, like Zinaida and Aleksandru, choose to pack their suitcase in hope for a better life.

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

SUBSCRIBE For weekly news and analysis on Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report."