Zelinka, E.: Romania’ migration fluxes, 2011

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The present article aims to identify the major migration-related issues that Romania is facing at present, at the end of 2010. The article covers three major areas: immigration, emigration and recommendations.

In the last half of a decade, the migration paradigms in Romania have altered considerably and a new facet occurred: the large phenomenon of immigration. Due to this reason, the present article will commence analyzing migration with its latest issue, namely immigration.

Immigration, Immigrants – Labor Immigrants

At the Eastern border of “Fortress Europe”, Romania hosts a considerable number of immigrants, mainly from Asia and Africa. Most of them are labor migrants (the majority from Asia) and political refugees seeking political asylum (the majority from Africa). The phenomenon of immigration to Romania has increased considerably since Romania’s accession to the European Union on January 1, 2007. Since 2007, some immigrants’ communities have already outnumbered some small ethnic minorities in Romania. Being confronted with this new situation since 2007, the Romanian state has not implemented efficient laws to meet the needs of the new demographic framework. Moreover, the Romanian education system has not developed any new intercultural (not even multicultural) curricula for the immigrants’ children.

Although Romania ratified the most important UNO and Council of Europe conventions concerning migration and human rights, the Romanian authorities still do not operate with enough transparency, while corruption is also high. Many laws related to migration are not explicit and therefore, they are inefficient. Border control (especially on the Eastern borders which constitutes the margin of the EU) is still corruption-tinged and does not rise to the expectations of the European Union. This proves to be a topical issue that Romania is often ‘scolded’ for by Western Europe: for example within the NATO Summit Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal - 19-20 November 2010 (Turşan, 2010, available at: http://www.romanialibera.ro/actualitate/politica/schimb-de-replici-intre-basescu-si-sarkozy-la-summit-ul-nato-de-la-lisabona-206677.html).' target='_blank' title=''>http://www.romanialibera.ro/actualitate/politica/sarkozy-romania-trebuie-sa-si-rezolve-problemele-la-frontiere-inainte-sa-adere-la-schengen-206695.html).

A brief overview of Romania’s international legislation ratification shows the following: Romania ratified the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) in 1991, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) in 1990, and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005) in 2006. It is important to mention that Romania still neither has signed nor ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990). The Romanian legal framework does not punish any asylum seeker or refugee for residing (il)legally on Romanian territory, but offers protection against refoulment to migrants whose lives are endangered in their home countries. The principle of non-refoulment is guaranteed by the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In 2010, Romania is still more often regarded as a transit country rather than a destination country, despite the increasing number of asylum seekers. The number of transit migrants is still larger than the number of immigrants who settle down in Romania. Last year, Romania registered 59,017 legal immigrants: 49,497 temporary and 9,520 permanent residents. Most of the temporary foreign residents were Romanian citizens’ family members/relatives (17,264), students (12,510) and labor migrants (9,347). Approximately 1,000 individuals were refugees, benefiting from some kind of protection from the Romanian state, while residing on Romanian territory.

The Romanian society proves to be a tolerant and admissive one as the population has a neutral-to-positive perception of immigrants: 47.3% declare to have neither a negative, nor a positive image of immigrants, while 33.3% declare that they have a clearly positive image, while only 9.9% have a negative one. The single instance where they may be perceived as a menace is on the job market: they accept lower-paid jobs and therefore they are blamed for taking away the vacancies of the Romanian citizens.

The Romanian population is clearly misinformed about the overall conditions of the immigrants: while their real number is about 50,000, almost one third of Romanians thinks there are over a million foreigners in Romania; only 14.6% approach the correct number of immigrants. What is more almost 30% of Romanians believe there are 100,000 refugees in Romania, therefore multiplying their real number by 10. Likewise, it is an alarming fact that 80% of Romanians have never had any direct contact to immigrants: no direct communication and they have never known an Immigrant personally. Moreover, 71% of Romanians are not familiar with any kinds of services that the Romanian authorities (should) offer to the immigrants and 79% do not know the rights of the foreign migrants while residing on the territory of Romania.

In the case of legal labour immigrants Romania receives the largest number of labor migrants from China (33.77%), Turkey (32.40%), the Republic of Moldova (08.01%), Vietnam (04.78%) and the Philippines (01.94%)             (http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/264migrantinromanianr7ptweb.pdf).' target='_blank' title=''>http://www.cnrr.ro/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=107&Itemid=61&lang=ro).

According to an official survey completed in October 2010 by the National Block of Trade Unions (Blocul National Sindical, BNS) and the NGO ARCA  - The Romanian Forum for Refugees and Migrants (ARCA - Forumul Român pentru Refugiaţi şi Migranţi) the immigrants’ lack of information regarding their political and civil rights is alarming. They are not at all or insufficient familiar with their human rights as labor migrants in Romania, they do not know precisely their responsibilities either and they are not familiar with the perils on the Romanian job market. They do not know which (inter)national institutions to resort to in case they need any kind of aid or information. Most importantly, their majority does not speak either Romanian or any international language.

Therefore, they are easily exposed to the double abuses of the intermediary companies arranging jobs in Romania. They cash considerable sums of money (7,000 – 10,000 Euros per emigrant) in order to find a job for the migrants in Romania and to negotiate and complete all the bureaucratic paperwork for the hiring procedure in Romania. Moreover, quite often the jobs and work conditions promised and guaranteed by these intermediary companies do not overlap with the reality the labor migrants in Romania are facing. The harsh reality of the job market awaits the migrants upon their arrival in Romania: lower wages than guaranteed by the intermediary companies, more working hours, (much) poorer working and living conditions, insignificant or no medical insurance.

Secondly, labor migrants are also exposed to the abuses of their Romanian employers, who take advantage of the fact that immigrants are not informed about their labor rights and that they most often do not speak Romanian. Migrants have reported verbal abuses, unpaid or underpaid extra working hours, lack of medical insurance, therefore no medical aid in case of work accidents or disease, degrading working and living conditions and insignificant or no work protection at all. Moreover, Romanian employers have often overlooked and not reported work accidents (Şerban, Toader, in “Migrant in Romania”, 2010, no. 7, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/264migrantinromanianr7ptweb.pdf).

Irrefutable evidence is provided by Mr. A.V.R. Chandana, a 29 year old Sri Lankan engineer, who works in Romania as the leader of a team of 50 compatriots in the field of constructions. In an interview he told their story, how they arrived in Romania with a two year work contract and how they were totally isolated from the Romanian social realities. They do not speak Romanian, nor do they have the time or means to learn it, as the Romanian state offered no help in this field of integration. It was only the civil society, namely the Organization of Romanian Refugee Women (OFRR), who offered them language courses. Secondly, Mr. Chandana talks about the impossibility of any communication with the Romanian authorities. Nobody supervises their work conditions, namely whether the employer(s) respect their obligations agreed upon in the contract. Most importantly their access to social and medical services is also deficient due to the language barrier and to the culture shock they suffered from (Chandana, A.V.R, in “Migrant in Romania”, 2010, no. 6, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/3_migrantinromanianr6online.pdf).

Nevertheless, the majority of the labor migrants in Romania has reported to be content with their stay in their destination country. This paradox occurs due to the fact that they accept very poor conditions for wages that are much better as in their home countries. Remittances and any financial reward (no matter how insignificant) prove more important to labor migrants than the harsh work conditions in Romania (Chiriac, Marian, in “Migrant in Romania”, no. 7, 2010, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/264migrantinromanianr7ptweb.pdf). Often, entire families totally depend on one single labor migrant’s remittances, thus he cannot afford high expectations and he naturally accepts poor work conditions to save his family.

In 2010 Romanian employers requested 12,000 work permits to be issued for labor migrants alone, nevertheless The Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection approved only 8,000. The number of labour migrants dropped significantly in 2009 as compared to 2008 (70%), while in January - June 2010 their number further dropped with 40% compared to 2009. Over the span of time January - June 2010, the most work permits issued by The Romanian Office for Immigration were for masons (37%), 35% for professional football players and 24% for diggers. In 2010 the majority of labour migrants were employed in the field of constructions (mainly on construction sites), nevertheless their number decreased significantly compared to 2009, according to The Romanian Office for Immigration (http://ori.mai.gov.ro/home/index/en). The main reasons are the economic crises and the decreasing standard of living in Romania.

A special category of immigrants in Romania is the category of the so-called “tolerated” persons or the “non-person immigrants”, special category of the rejected asylum seekers. The lack of (adequate) Romanian laws makes it impossible for these immigrants to be granted asylum. The Romanian legislature does not determine the status of these rejected asylum seekers, nor any support that they might be allowed to obtain. Thus from the perspective of human and legal rights they become ghosts, void entities without identities. Without asylum, they cease to officially exist in Romanian documents wherefore they become the “tolerated non-persons”, with one single human right: the right to stay on Romanian territory. The Romanian legislative void deprives them of their rights to work and to receive medical as well as social care, even if they have suffered serious psychosocial traumas. The status of a “tolerated person” annuls any type of social or legal assistance, even to women who are victims of trafficking or to persons who are underage. The law does not clearly establish their status and their identity and deprives them of their basic human rights. The same deficient Romanian legislature that is in fact meant to clarify and aid their individual situations, in fact obliges them to resort to illegal forms of labor for example on the black market, in order to survive. The vicious circle closes, when it is again the Romanian state that punishes them if they are caught performing black labor. This is the single case where their social non-identity receives juridical value: the moment they ‘break’ the law.

Quite often the situation in which these immigrants are driven into through the Romanian (lack of) laws is more miserable than the situation they have fled in their home countries. We do not yet have reliable data about their precise number, origin or destination. Most of these ‘pariahs’ prefer to hide behind their own individual dramas and the bureaucratic maze of the Romanian laws. They patiently await a possibility to move on to another country which might offer them a more helpful future. Needless to say, these traumatized and desperate people may become victims of prostitution and of other forms of exploitation / abuse or of trafficking networks. All this time the Romanian state prefers to close a blind eye over their situation and pretty much ignores them.

Emergency Centers for Immigrants

Timisoara is one of the largest receiving centers of immigrants in Romania, second to Bucharest. Timisoara hosts the first and largest Emergency Transit Center for Immigrants, inaugurated on 12 March 2009, with the support of UNHCR, the Romanian Government, the Romanian Office for Immigration and the International Organization for Migration. The present Emergency Center is one of the first such specialized centers in Europe. It offers six-month asylum to foreign applicants, whose existence is jeopardized in their home countries. In November 2009 the Center started hosting and aiding emergency situations of refugees from Eritrea (relocating them in Sweden and Canada) and from Iraq. The Sudanese refugees from Iraq were relocated in the USA.The Center has a capacity of 200 applicants and it offers not only shelter but also legal and psychological support to all refugees. It collaborates with different NGOs in facilitating the application for the status of refugees, mediates the applicants’ (sometimes difficult) collaboration with the Romanian authorities and it also offers different integration programs, once the applicants received their refugee status: English and Romanian language courses, attending the refugees to religious sites as well as facilitating their application for possible job openings.

Emigration – Labor Migrants

Migration, especially emigration from Romania was strictly controlled during the communist regime, nevertheless it boomed immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The different flows of migrants in Romania encompassed all social layers and their social impact lead to different socio-economic and political situations and even to cultural shocks. In addition to these, both the destination points and the reasons for migration diversified after 1989. In the 1990s, all European countries experienced the multiple facets of migration as a new, diverse and expanding phenomenon, which triggered issues on economic, social, cultural and political interlevels. In the early 1990s migration in the CEE block usually resumed to emigration from Eastern to Western Europe. Towards the end of the 1990s, many Western countries felt their socio-economic markets became saturated (even oversaturated) with immigrants. Consequently, immigration restrictions were imposed and much to the East’s surprise, Western states started behaving as a “Fortress Europe”, protecting their borders and their societies. This tendency strengthened in the middle of the first decade of the third millennium. After these heavy flows of migration and relocation of cultural remittances, today’s Europe faces new socio-economic and cultural challenges.

Romania was no exception to this overall CEE migratory tendency. Immediately after the opening of the borders in 1989, a large number of Germans left Romania for Germany (sometimes Austria), followed by Romanian citizens as well, in search of better living conditions in Western Europe. In 2003, 10% of the Romanian households were affected by migration, while in 2005 the percentage rose considerably, to 16%. Nowadays emigration is a real issue in Romania, at least from two points of view: firstly, the national economy is strongly affected by the lack of work force, especially male work force. The most affected areas are the heavy industry, constructions and agriculture – where male force is usually needed, because a large sector of Romanian young and middle-aged male population left the country, working abroad as labour migrants. One can locate the residents of deserted villages from Eastern and Southern Romania in Spain, Italy and Germany, working in the above-mentioned industrial sectors. The female population from these underdeveloped regions is also working abroad in agriculture, health care and domestic labour.

Consequently, this triggers the second emigration-related issue in the Romanian society: the adults who emigrate and work abroad (in Spain, Italy, the UK) have left behind their young children and their elderly relatives. These usually live in alarming poverty, aided only by the remittances sent by their adult relatives working abroad. These remittances often prove insufficient, so the issues of poverty and of low living standards are not solved.

Moreover, the most alarming situation is that of the Romanian children left behind, both under age and of age living with their relatives. They cannot offer them the psychological family balance of their biological parents. Furthermore, they often drop out of school, thus the level of illiteracy and/or under-education has become alarming in the contemporary Romanian society. This refers especially to the underdeveloped regions of Romania, its eastern and southern counties, where labour emigration has become a large and necessary phenomenon.

Romanians labour migrants face the same level of rejection or acceptance in Western Europe as all other immigrants who are seen as a threat on the Occidental labour market: they accept to reside in (very) poor living conditions and/or to work overtime, as their ultimate goal is the financial reward. No matter how miserable the work and life conditions, their remuneration is still higher as it would be in Romania. As a chain reaction, the Westerners are then deprived of certain jobs categories, where the labour force gap is filled by the Romanian immigrants. Hence, the Romanian labour migrants may experience rejection (Câmpeanu, 2009: 32-39).

Another reason for rejection/racism towards Romanians in Western Europe is the association/connection made between Romanian citizens of Romania and the Roma (Gypsy) citizens of Romania. The Roma are often presented in the mass media as being involved in illegalities in Western Europe, such as burglary, theft, robbery, black market activism, prostitution and rape or begging. These delinquencies stamp the collective conscious of the (‘more civilized’) Western societies and thus they create a blurred overlapping and generalization regarding the Romanians and the Roma, who both come from Romania.

The most frequent destination countries for Romania labour migrants are Spain, France, Italy and Germany. The most common areas of labour are agriculture (both men and women), domestic work (women) and constructions (men).

Romanian labour migrants are sometimes called ‘euro-commuters’ due to their large number and to the frequency and flexibility of their commuting from Romanian cities to the (usually) Spanish ones. Transcontinental coaches leave the Romanian capital, Bucharest on a daily basis – their destinations being Madrid and other Spanish cities. Other migrants opt for plane routes, especially since low cost airlines have started operating in Romania.


Romanian authorities in charge of migration issues should be more transparent and more approachable for migrants who necessitate their aid.

Corruption and networking in Romania should be curbed and delinquency should be closer surveiled and impeached.

Romania should update and perfect her legal framework regarding migrants, so that legal ‘gaps / voids’ should not exist, thus migrants should not be further traumatized.

For migrants it would be very effective if they could enjoy better collaboration between the Romanian authorities and the Romanian civil society in aiding migrants with legal counseling, training and integration programs, labor qualification and Romanian language learning programs, medical assistance, cultural orientation, emotional and psychological support.

Integrating the immigrants and their children in order to overcome the stage of multiculturalism and to reach the stage of interculturalism. Integration should be focused on Romanian language learning, community building, strong socio-cultural interaction with the Romanian population and teaching migrants’ children in Romanian schools.


ARCA-Romanian Forum for Refugees and Migrants, Bucharest, Romania (ARCA-Forumul Roman pentru Refugiati si Migranti), available at: http://www.intercultural.ro/rom/index.html, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Asociatia Cultura Pacii – Centrul de Informare si Sprijin pentru Imigranti (Peace Culture Association – Center for Information and Support for Immigrants), Bucharest, Romania, available at: http://www.imigrant.ro, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Câmpeanu, Anca, 2009, “Mica Românie din Spania” (“The Small Romania in Spain”), in National Geographic, June 2009.

Chandana, A. V. R, 2010, in “Migrant in Romania”, 2010, no. 6, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/3_migrantinromanianr6online.pdf), LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Chiriac, Marian, in “Migrant in Romania”, no. 7, 2010, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/264migrantinromanianr7ptweb.pdf

DIVERS ETICA Association (Asociatia DIVERS ETICA), Bucharest, Romania, available at: http://www.diversetica.ro/,' target='_blank' title=''>LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Dumitru, Andra, 2010, “Sarkozy: România trebuie să-şi rezolve problemele la frontiere înainte să adere la Schengen“, in România Liberă, 20 November 2010, available at: http://www.romanialibera.ro/actualitate/politica/sarkozy-romania-trebuie-sa-si-rezolve-problemele-la-frontiere-inainte-sa-adere-la-schengen-206695.html, LAST ACCESSED: 22.10.2010.

The Intercultural Institute Timisoara, Romania (Institutul Intercultural Timisoara), available at: http://www.intercultural.ro/rom/index.html, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

The Intercultural Institute Timisoara, Romania (Institutul Intercultural Timisoara), “Migrant in Romania”, available at: www.migrant.ro, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

The Organization of Romanian Refugee Women (Organizatia Femeilor Refugiate din Romania), Bucharest, Romania, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/ofrr/, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

The Romanian National Council for Refugees, (Consiliul National Roman pentru Refugiati – CNRR), 2009, available at: http://www.cnrr.ro/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=107&Itemid=61&lang=ro, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Romanian National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons, available at: http://anitp.mai.gov.ro/en/, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

The Romanian National Refugee Office (Consiliul National Roman pentru Refugiati), available at: http://www.cnrr.ro/CNRR_Index_lucru_en.htm, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

The Romanian Office for Immigration (Oficiul Roman pentru Imigrari), available at: http://ori.mai.gov.ro/home/index/en, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Şerban, Toader, 2010, in “Migrant in Romania”, 2010, no. 7, available at: http://www.migrant.ro/file/pagesleft/264migrantinromanianr7ptweb.pdf, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.

Turşan, 2010, “Schimb de replici între Băsescu şi Sarkozy la summit-ul NATO de la Lisabona”, România Liberă, 20 November 2010, available at: http://www.romanialibera.ro/actualitate/politica/schimb-de-replici-intre-basescu-si-sarkozy-la-summit-ul-nato-de-la-lisabona-206677.html, LAST ACCESSED: 22.12.2010.


"A trip to Romania "--- about UK's reticence and fear of Romanian immigrant workers after joining the EU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxuUC9DZXy8

"Italian immigrant backlash draws Romanian ire - 06 Nov 07"--- about Romanians living in prehistoric miserable conditions in the outskirts of Rome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWHkuZdDzKw

"Britain shouldn't fear Bulgarian and Romanian immigration “www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBLzHbpA98s&feature=related

“Immigration in the UK”---www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mBUNpdYuhQ&feature=related

Human Trafficking, directed by Christian Duguay, USA, 2005, 170 mins., crime, drama, mystery, thriller, nominated for 2 Golden Globes and awarded with another 6 wins & 5 nominations, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0461872/.

Podul de flori (The Flower Bridge), directed by Thomas Ciulei, Romania, 2008, 87 mins., http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1225713/.

Nuntă în Basarabia (Wedding in Bessarabia), directed by Napoleon Helmis, Romania – Republic of Moldova – Luxembourg 2009/2010, comedy, 90 mins,  http://nuntainbasarabia.ro/, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1741706/.

Elisabeta Zelinka, Assistant Professor at The University of the West Timisoara, Romania