“Of course, it’s a pity that many people are leaving from Moldova, but the diaspora’s contribution is not limited to remittances, which are not the key element. We can see the migrants’ contribution in the daily life, in changes of attitude, in the life experience and democracy habits they acquired in their countries of destination. They return with a different way of thinking, a new approach, they come with concrete proposals and projects.” The opinion was shared by Olga Coptu, head of the Bureau for Diaspora Relations, in an interview for Sabina Rebeja, on the eve of the Diaspora Days and the DOR program.
- The Diaspora Days will be held for the fourth consecutive year. What are this edition’s particular features?
- The Diaspora Days are held in August, both at a central and at a local level in Moldova. This time, we start with an open doors day at the government, where we hope to have an open, transparent and constructive dialogue with our migrants. Government representatives will tell them about our latest achievements, what we are working on, what problems there are, topics like social protection agreements, etc. Afterwards, we’ll all go to the Palace of the Republic, where the workshop “Diaspora and Diplomacy” will be held, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. There, the diaspora will meet with representatives of our diplomatic corps abroad.
At the government, we will present the most recent mapping of our diaspora in the top six countries with most Moldovans: Italy, Russia, Israel, Portugal, Great Britain. This research allows us to see the trends, which are the most popular destinations, what are the crisis-related problems in recent years, what the re-immigration tendencies to the EU and so on.
The next day, we’ll go together to the Gustar Music Festival, where we have a special exhibition for the diaspora - “Moldova from anywhere”. We invited our co-nationals to come home and present their countries of destination at a food and arts fair. On Sunday, we have the Diaspora Mini-Football Cup. We’ve been organizing such tournaments for severals years in countries like Portugal. It’s time for them to play home as well. This Sunday, there’ll be four teams, some representing the diaspora, others the government.
- How many migrants are expected to attend the Diaspora Days and which countries are the most active?
- Traditionally, Italy, Portugal and Russia are the most represented. But we’ll have people coming from 24 countries, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, USA, Canada and Lebanon. We have people living all over the world and they are expected to come home. We welcome both projects and criticisms, so that we can put the problems on the table and find a solution together.
- Migration has both a positive and a negative impact on the economy. How can the diaspora contribute to Moldova’s economic development, given the current economic and social-political context?
- A big problem, from 2005 to about 2012, was that of abandoned children. Over the last five years, the trend is towards the reunification of families. Most of those who went abroad took their children with them. That’s why the number of students in Moldovan schools is dropping and that of Moldovan students abroad is growing. The reunification of families was in full sway some years ago. Now, we’re at the stage where our diaspora is settling and putting roots down in the countries of destination.
As regards the negative effects of migration, of course there are some, especially for the country of origin. We have the depopulation of Moldova, the aging of the population, the drain of the labor force, which is contributing to pension funds abroad. According to last year’s statistics, migrants in Italy contributed 8 billion euros to the Italian pension fund, while we have a huge deficit in this field. These are topics that concern us and we must look at them in a wider context.
If we think about the benefits, of course it’s a pity that many people are leaving from Moldova, but the diaspora’s contribution is not limited to remittances, which are not the key element. We can see the migrants’ contribution in the daily life, in changes of attitude, in the life experience and democracy habits they acquired in their countries of destination. They return with a different way of thinking, a new approach, they come with concrete proposals and projects. There are many Moldovan migrants who come back home and contribute to their local communities by illuminating a street or repairing a sports hall and so on.
- What is Moldova offering to people willing to invest and come back home for good, how does it support them?
- Concerning the highly qualified migrants, together with the International Organization for Migration, we had a program where we selected eight highly qualified migrants who will be involved in the development of public policies by the government. We also have the Diaspora Engagement Hub, a program that offered 62 grants for diaspora projects both here and abroad, including centers for studying the Romanian language or women empowerment projects. In recent years, the diaspora is very active.
By 2017, we noticed the diaspora’s strong desire to actively participate in various projects and programs. We have diaspora projects being implemented from the north to the south. We have regional thematic partnerships, in which at least two diaspora associations and local NGO jointly implement a project. This way, we encourage different associations to get to know each other. An example is the building of bus stops in Horodiste, Calarasi. Most often, the migrants are spiritually attached to their village or town of origin. The emotional bond is what truly matters.
- The Bureau for Diaspora Relations is meant to develop policies for migrants. What are the most important achievements and expectations in this field?
- The BRD’s mission is often misunderstood by our diaspora. Sometimes they expect too much from us and we cannot meet all of their needs or it’s not even within our powers. The BRD is meant to be open towards solving some diaspora problems or to help them deal with relevant institutions. Our work is cross-sectorial and we overlap with the activity of several ministries. For this, we have focus points on a central level. There are people in each ministry and state agency that are in charge of diaspora issues.
At the next government meeting, there are two draft decisions submitted by the BRD. We want to multiply these focus points and have people in charge of diaspora issues on a local level as well. Local authorities can gain a lot from creating such bridges to the diaspora. The second proposal concerns the reintegration of Moldovans who return between 2017 and 2020. It mostly deals with orientation programs and stimulating investments.
The decision to return often depends on the prospects available to the migrants’ children. That’s one of their main worries. We need to develop policies and ensure such conditions in schools, that they won’t feel stressed about the changes in social entourage or school curriculum. For the second half of 2017, we have planned many activities concerning regulations, local trainings, the implementation of the reintegration plan and the writing of the guide for returned migrants.
- You are right, the situation of migrant children is a key topic. The DOR program, dedicated to them, is at its fifth edition. What is the program’s goal in general and this year in particular? What is the BRD’s long term vision regarding projects that involve our diaspora’s children?
- DOR is a program designed for our migrants’ children and every year it ends very emotionally. One hundred kids from 14 countries, including some from Moldova, come together to get to know the best of our country. For a week, they have an exceptional program. They get to meet key people from various fields like the theater and listen to the best speakers. They learn about the most important achievements in Moldova and about the specifics of our country. These are mostly children who have been born abroad, who have never seen Moldova or only came for a short time during holidays. They may know their grandparents and relatives, but they don’t know what Moldova has to say to the world.
These children attend folk dances, handicrafts, wood carving and clay modeling workshops. During a short period of time, they get familiar with our traditional culture. It’s a program that succeeds in strengthening communication among them, because during this week they speak only Romanian. This year, just like during previous editions, they will enjoy only authentic culture.
Regarding future plans, it’s important to see how we can continue supporting the creation of new Education Centers in the diaspora. Secondly, the BRD and its partners must find a way to involve teenagers. Older kids, in their attempt to blend in with other teenagers in their country of destination, be them Italians or Portuguese, tend to discard everything that’s representative of their country of origin. It’s important to keep them within Moldova’s sphere of interest, to maintain their emotional bond to our country and to be able to implement special programs for children and teenagers.
- If you sketched the portrait of a Moldovan migrant, what characteristics would you include?
- They are patriots. They participate in promoting their country, in its political life, including by organizing protests, a very important thing. They have acquired Western democracy habits, a different kind of attitude, fairness, punctuality. Equally important, they successfully integrate in their destination countries.