RFE/RL's Moldovan Service recently spoke to a woman who went through illegal channels to obtain a visa to travel to the European Union. Correspondent Elena Moldoveanu asked the woman, who identified herself only as S.T., about her experience.
S.T.: I obtained my visa thanks to an acquaintance, who's in Italy now. I paid her $1,800 eight years ago. Her name was Viorica. She would gather groups of Moldovans, guide them into Italy, and then return for more people.
She used to have a friend in the arts institute who would help with the papers. Viorica didn't end up getting us Italian visas. Actually, they were visas for Portugal, and they were specifically issued for a group of violinists.
There were lots of people involved in the trafficking network. When we were stopped by Romanian customs authorities, the officers there realized we weren't musicians. We weren't carrying any instruments! So everyone in the bus contributed 10 euros [$13] and we paid off the customs officer.
RFE/RL: Were there many people traveling with you?
S.T.: Yes, it was a large bus, with at least 60 seats. From word of mouth I learned that other people paid $2,400 for their visas. I traveled to Italy, to Padua, and from there I took a train to Rome.
RFE/RL: Why did you buy a visa?
S.T.: If I hadn't, I wouldn't have made it to Italy! My sister and husband were waiting for me there. Then my sister went back home and I stayed and took her place at her job. The family I worked for helped me draft my immigration papers.
RFE/RL: Is it difficult to find a job in Italy these days?
S.T.: It's very difficult. Especially when you don't have any family, any support. You have to ask everyone for help. There are Moldovans here who sell jobs. Anyone looking for one has to pay 200-300 euros.
The Romanians have distorted the situation. Since Romania joined the European Union, Romanians can just buy an 80 euro ticket and take a bus to Italy. They'll take a job that pays just 400 euros. So the Italians prefer to hire Romanians, rather than pay a Moldovan 1,000 euros.
RFE/RL: Do Moldovans who emigrate now still buy their visas illegally?
S.T.: Yes, now they pay at least 4,000 euros, and still they're not even sure they'll make it to Italy. They pay up to 4,000 euros in order to get a guarantee they'll reach their destination, and then they're forced to walk there, climbing mountains and jumping over ditches.
When I went back home to Moldova for a few weeks, I was replaced by a girl from Anenii Noi, who was led on foot through the Croatian mountains, even though she paid for her visa. There's probably a secret path through there. Her group was trailed by police with dogs, and they all ended up getting arrested. She finally reached Rome, after a lot of hardship.
The trafficking network is well organized. I think you should pay less if you end up being forced to walk to Italy. People are smarter now, and they don't waste money if they're not guaranteed to get to the target country.
Once you find a job, you have to make sure that your pay is at least 1,000 euros, given the economic crisis. We Moldovans are used to our 20-year crisis, and we don't feel the effects of the current crisis so much. But the Italians are scared, and they're no longer throwing around money left and right.
RFE/RL: Would you like to return to Moldova?
S.T.: I've got all the papers. I can go there whenever I like, and return to Italy whenever I like. But I prefer to stay here, because the pay in my country is very low. We send a lot of cash back to Moldova, but still we feel humiliated when we're there.