LAND OHNE ELTERN / Country without parents

Andrea Diefenbach

2008 - 2012

When I was standing in front of a class of first graders in a small village in the

southeast of the Republic of Moldova and their teachers asked “whose parents live in Italy?”, and when about two thirds of the children raised their hands with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, I was shocked. How different it is to read about all those statistics about labor migration and remittances from being in a cold classroom with 30 six-year-olds in woolly hats and to realize that these children often haven’t seen their parents in years since they emigrated illegally into the EU and work as cleaners or harvesters 2000 km away from home. The Republic of Moldova is a poor country, with some statistics making it the poorest European country. This was not always the case. Up to its independence at the onset of the 1990s, it was one of the most prosperous of the Soviet Republics. However, due to the unresolved Transnistrian conflict its economic situation has deteriorated dramatically. Russia has ceased to be its major market for agricultural produce and there is hardly any domestic industry. The average monthly wage is about

€110 and forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Many try to improve their situation by looking for work abroad. According to official estimates, at least 690,000 of the 4.3 million citizens of Moldova live and work abroad. NGOs estimate that the true figure is more than one million people. No other European country has as many labor migrants

as the Republic of Moldavia. Remittances from host countries amount to more than the gross

domestic product and are the one economic factor that keeps the state from economic bankruptcy. According to National Bank statistics, the annual cash inflow from abroad totals about $600 million. If the unofficial transfers are added, more than double this amount comes back to Moldova

from abroad, more than what is paid in wages in the country per year. There is hardly a family where not at least one parent works abroad. As a rule the children stay behind and grow up with

relatives, friends or even completely on their own. Since most parents leave the country illegally, children often do not see their parents for many years.

I have accompanied these divided families, the children in the Republic of Moldova and their parents who mainly live illegally in Italy, the country in the west to which most Moldovans


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  • Ottilias parents are living illegally in Italy. She stayed with the grandmother who she is calling MAMA at home in Moldova.

  • Marina is taking care of her sister Gabi. Their mother lives and works in Italy, the father often works in

  • Ludmilla has six differnet jobs as cleaning lady. Her son stayed in Moldova with his grandparents, they did not see eachother for eight years.

  • Aliona and Wanja talkig to their children at the phone after work

  • Five years ago, her mother Tanja went to Italy with a girlfriend. She paid the
    people smugglers 4,000 euros. She has been working since then as a personal care assistant to elderly people
    (badante) and earns 850 euros a month. Her three daughters, eight, ten, and twelve years old at the time
    she left, first lived for three years on their own and were later taken in by various families that Tanja sent
    money to.

  • Catalina: Catalina’s parents have spent most of their time abroad for the last seven years. They were in
    Italy on a nine-month work visa, before they went to Moscow, where they had already worked previously.
    Before that, they had once tried their luck in Italy and lost a great deal of money – they had entered the
    country illegally and, after not finding any work, returned home. The grandmother actually lives in another
    village, but has moved in with Catalina and her brother while their parents are away

  • A baby is sleeping. His father and grandmother live in Italy.

  • Sport class in January

  • Marina is teaching her younger sister Gabi to swim.

  • Dinner in Olga, Carolina and Sabrina's house

  • Aliona before work. She is working in the melon harvest. Her children are in Moldova.

  • Lilia left illegally to Italy. It took five years till she saw her two daughters again.

  • Carolina is talking to her mother, who left to Italy in 2007. She is living together with her two older
    sisters. Their mother is calling the girls at least twice a day and is sending a parcel with clothes, pasta and
    sweets once a month.

  • Many moldovan woman are working as so called badante in Italy – they are taking care of old people and doing their household.

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