Romania is becoming a country of destination of more and more migrants.
According to the Index for the Integration of Immigrants, published
by the Centre for the Compared Study of Migration, in 2018 Romania was in
transition towards a country of immigrant destination. The main reasons for
settling in this country are family reunification in the case of refugees or
political asylum seekers, work, as Romania is currently facing a labour force
crisis in some fields of activity, or study. Foreign citizens with legal
residence in Romania are nationals of third countries, citizens of the EU or
SEE countries or beneficiaries of international protection. The most important
countries of origin of these nationals are: The Republic of Moldova, Turkey,
China, Syria and Israel. Between 2005 and 2017, the percentage of immigrants to
Romania rose four times, from 0.5% to 2% (roughly 380 thousand people). Those
who want to settle in Romania are benefiting from assistance from various NGOs
such as Active Random set up three years ago by several enthusiastic young
people whose average age was 25. From one of these, Iosif Prodan, we've learnt
who these migrants are.
"We can draw the conclusion that Romania is the EU country with one
of the smallest number of immigrants or refugees. Romania lies at the bottom of
the ranking in terms of the number of immigrants so we cannot speak of it as a
destination country. One of the reasons is the economic situation, which isn't
quite good. Another reason is that immigrants usually look for countries where
they have relatives, friends etc. A case in point are those coming from the
Middle East; if they have relatives in France or Germany for instance, they
would rather go there than to Romania, where they know nobody."
The ActivRandom association works
with the migrants who opt for remaining here, offering free-of-charge Romanian
language classes or classes of English and helping them with the courses they
need to take if they want to be granted Romanian citizenship. Also, help is
being given to children as well, for their integration, through painting
workshops, through staging sports activities for them, through invitations to
Denisa Colțea does volunteer work
as part of the association, teaching citizenship preparation courses.
"Our students also include people
who have been living here for over 20 years now. Initially, they came for study
purposes, they went to university here and then they stayed here where they set
up their own families. And now, they want to be granted Romanian citizenship as
well. Coursework syllabus includes History, Geography, Constitution, Culture
and Civilization, as well as some separate disciplines focusing on Romania's
Anthem and the EU."
18-year-old Fatima Zarwari of
Afghanistan is one of the beneficiaries of ActivRandom. Fatima arrived in
Romania three years ago with her mother and brother for family reunification
purposes, her father being a resident already, with the status of political
refugee. Fatima left Afghanistan because of the uncertainty and fear induced by
the Talibans among the population, no doubt about that. Speaking about that,
here is Fatima Zarwari herself.
"Right now, here, in Romania, we
are doing fine, it is peace, I go to school and we are happy. It was kind of
hard in the beginning. In our first month in Europe everything seemed all
right. All was new. But then I began to feel sad because we had parted company
with our relatives in Afghanistan, with colleagues and friends. It was very
difficult for us. But then we focused on studying the language so that we may
learn it, and that is how we got used to our new life."
Fatima is currently a 12th
grader in a high school in Bucharest. She learned Romanian and she says
everybody at school, students and teachers, were quite nice to her. But there
have been unpleasant experiences as well.
"The worst incident happened to my mother, who doesn't speak
Romanian very well and maybe she will never be able to learn it properly. There
were days when she came home crying because people in the street had spit at
her or given her angry looks. I've been through that several times as well.
Once I was with my family on a tram, we were going to the Business Academy
where I was supposed to give a speech on refugees. It was back when we were
still waiting for an answer to our asylum application, and as far as we knew at
that time, public transport was free for us. We only had our asylum seeker
cards. We had had previous encounters with public transport inspectors and
everything had been fine, but this time around they were very mean, they told
us we had to pay and were very rude to us. When we got down with the
inspectors, the police came and people gathered around us, and some kept asking
what we were doing here and shouted at us to go back to our country. I was very
affected, and I cried a lot that day."
From her experience as a volunteer, Denisa Coltea says the migrants
who attend her training sessions see discrimination cases as one-off incidents.
Despite this, for several weeks, the local population in Ditrau,
Harghita county, central Romania, have been protesting against the hiring of
Sri Lankan workers by a local bakery, angry that employers prefer foreign
workers. It's still not clear if this is more out of xenophobia or outrage at
employers who refuse to provide decent work conditions and payment. Until the
case is settled, we cannot overlook a certain tendency in Romania to
discriminate against foreigners. Iosif Prodan:
"We, Romanians, like to think that we are welcoming and hospitable.
This self-perception is related, however, to those coming from the West. We never
thought someone from the East would ever want to come here to live and work.
First, we're not sure how to react. Later, two types of reactions occur: we
either reject them completely, or welcome them. I belong to a generation whose
parents went abroad to find work, so it's easy for me to empathise with similar
cases. It's a matter of basic human decency to understand that there are people
in this world who have gone through some traumatic experiences and have lived
in fear for a long time. I find it impossible not to be able to understand this
and not welcome such people and want to help them."
To help migrants integrate and the locals to accept them, for the
last two years ActivRandom has been holding a festival called OmFest, a
cross-cultural event highlighting the diversity of foreigner communities in