A few days ago, the mayor of the French town of Dammarie-les-Lys wrote to the French Minister of Internal Affairs requesting his assistance in regulating a community of Moldovan citizens. The French police counted over 800 people, living illegally on the territory of the old Eiffage factory on the Boulevard Montaigne.
The locals complained to the mayor that the factory residents do not comply with the quarantine, go out in large groups to shops, do not wear masks, gloves, and touch the products without buying them. Following the complaints, the mayor had to make an official statement on the City Hall’s website.
“Individual responsibility and solidarity must be two absolute priorities. I sent an alert letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs regarding the non-observance of the quarantine by the Moldovan population. It is not the time to debate the subject of their presence in our commune. We only ask the state to implement measures to impose order,” says the official communiqué.
With the onset of the pandemic, several European countries raised the issue of unauthorized migrant communities on the outskirts of cities. In most cases, these are Roma communities from Moldova.
France, Germany, and the Netherlands repeatedly mentioned throughout 2019, signaling that members of these communities apply for asylum in large groups. However, they do not meet the refugee conditions, because Moldova is not on the list of at-risk states whose citizens could benefit asylum in the European Union (EU).
Buses with Moldovan Citizens in the Netherlands
In November 2019, Dutch police arrested several Moldovan citizens accused of organizing illegal migration. They transported buses full of people, including children and the elderly, to asylum centers. None of the Moldovans met the status of a refugee.
“The police arrested a 34-year-old Moldovan near Ter Apel suspected of human trafficking. There were 19 Moldovans in the van, including nine children and babies, while the vehicle had seats for only six people,” headlined the Dutch press on November 16, 2019.
On August 8, 2019, two other Moldovan drivers aged 38 and 41 were arrested for transporting ten people to ask asylum in the Netherlands. A few weeks later, two drivers aged 50 and 57 were arrested for transporting 65 Moldovan citizens to claim asylum. Dutch police officer Sierd Eijzenga told reporters that he was investigating an organized group of Moldovan traffickers. “There seems to be a connection that facilitates travel from Moldova sometimes through Germany to the Netherlands.”
The statistics on asylum applications from Moldovan citizens to the EU countries is shocking. Since 2016, applications have grown exponentially. However, the approval rate is close to zero. Most Moldovans seek asylum in Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and France.
In 2019, almost 900 Moldovan citizens applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Thus, Moldovans rank first in terms of the number of asylum seekers with children. The minor children constitute about 40 percent of those who applied for asylum. However, no Moldovan citizens received asylum in the Netherlands in recent years because they could not prove their refugee status. The ZdG team found these people and talked to some of them.
The Netherlands Authorities Offered Accommodation and Food, but not Money
The employees at the Asylum Center in the Dutch town of Ter Apel remember very well the famous groups of Moldovan citizens who came by organized buses. Ketenmarinier Henk Wolthof, the head of this Asylum Center, told us the story of our fellow citizens with a bitter smile while making a tour of the territory. He started with the gym: “In this room, we had to accommodate 200 Moldovans. We arranged beds in three rows.”
The people were tired after a long journey. They traveled in buses with fewer seats than passengers. Some of them had children. For a few days, they received here a place to sleep in a common room, access to the bathroom, and a hot meal. They hoped to receive money too, but they did not.
“We did not give them any money. I told them clearly that they have no chance of obtaining asylum, that they do not meet the criteria, and that they will have to leave this country as soon as possible,” said Henk Wolthof, who has extensive experience working with migrants. He witnessed thousands of tough stories and has an undisguised empathy for people who leave their home country having to look for a better place.
“We regret that they had to embark on such a long journey. It is such a pity, they had a dream that they made in Moldova, but which did not come true. I saw the disappointment on their faces when they found out the truth. Our advice is: do not seek asylum. It is pointless and there are no chances.”
There Are People Who Make Money on Organizing Groups that Take the Asylum Seekers in the EU Countries
Ter Apel is the largest Asylum Center in the Netherlands. It is open day and night. Applicants from all over the world are looking for a chance. Many applicants come from countries with ongoing wars or with totalitarian regimes, such as Syria or Iran. However, there are many citizens of states qualified as safe, such as Moldova.
Asylum applications are rigorously examined, which means that people for whom it is dangerous to return to their country of origin receive housing, vocational training, a work permit, and financial support for the adaptation period. However, most people cannot prove that they are in danger of death in their country of origin so they have to leave Ter-Apel.
“In my opinion, they come to get a better economic situation, but no asylum in the Netherlands will offer it. So these people have no chance.” Antonio Polosa is the head of the Dutch office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). We found him in his office in the Hague with lots of memories of Moldova. Previously, he worked as head of the IOM office in Chișinău so he is well acquainted with our migration traditions. We asked him what his first thought was when he heard about buses with asylum seekers from Moldova.
“I thought someone was making money by organizing these groups. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of human trafficking, of organizing illegal migration is still quite relevant for Moldova, as well as for other post-Soviet states. The law enforcement bodies and society should get involved in combating this phenomenon, ensuring that nobody exploits nor deceives those vulnerable people and that nobody makes money on them,” said Polosa.
Moldova’s Ambassador in the Hague, Tatiana Pârvu, knows about the problem. “I immediately contacted our institutions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After that, Moldova’s representative at Europol contacted the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We established communication between the Marechaussee (Dutch police) and our institutions immediately. The Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Causes and the representative of the Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons undertook a working visit,” says the ambassador.
She says that the embassy keeps an eye on the cases of the arrested drivers. “There were calls from the drivers who transported the citizens in November. They asked what to do after they were detained by the Dutch Marechaussee.” However, the Moldovan authorities cannot intervene until the Dutch judiciary fully elucidate the cases. Tatiana Pârvu confirms that criminal cases have been initiated both in Moldova and in the Netherlands.
Moldova’s Embassy Has no Budget to Deport Back Illegal Immigrants
Moldova’s Embassy had a lot of work to do with legalizing papers for rejected asylum seekers.
“They massively appealed directly to the embassy, to obtain the travel document. We issued many travel documents in a very short time. Most did not have IDs on them and some even had false documents. The travel document is the act that substitutes the passport,” the ambassador says. According to the ambassador, the authorities cannot further control the process of their deport, nor can they offer them ticket money. “We don’t have a budget for that. We never had one, except for extra-exceptional cases.”
Many of the asylum seekers who got rejected in the Netherlands try to claim it in other EU countries. However, it seems that the European authorities have been using a more in-depth exchange of data on repeated asylum applications.
“By the way, most Moldovan citizens who in November 2019 applied for asylum here came from France and a small part from Germany. Statistics show that repetitive requests account for 70 percent. Some who applied here, in the Netherlands, naively believing that they are not in the database. Subsequently, they later tried in France and Germany. They tried to capitalize on the economic benefits offered during the examination of the asylum application, as they said: “We have heard that they offer material benefits here.”
The Dutch authorities provide support to those in difficulty. However, the conditions for providing material support for the period of examination of the asylum application have become more drastic. People no longer receive money, but only accommodation with strict conditions and for short periods. “As soon as they stopped offering this money, asylum seekers chose to go home. They abandoned their claims,” concludes Tatiana Pârvu.
A Cup of Tea for Street People Who Came From Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Romania
There are people who incidentally came to Amsterdam. They don’t speak the language, don’t have professional training, work, or study permit. Many of these people become street people. Ion Rauleț studied in the Netherlands. Now, he works for the Amoc Center, which provides support to people from Eastern Europe in critical situations on the streets of Amsterdam.
“The center deals with people who do not speak Dutch or English and need social and psychological help, food, clothes, a shower, some social assistance,” he explains the activity of the center. “People who come here are mainly from Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, or Russia. There are many Russian speakers. We do not verify the people’s identity when they enter the Center, not to embarrass anyone,” Ion explains. He told us that the purpose of the center is to encourage people to ask for help if they need it. However, the aid will be short-lived. The migrants can also benefit from a return ticket to the country of origin paid by the Amsterdam City Hall, but only if they want.
Although there are serious financial expenses, Ion considers that people should receive help. “I cannot say that they take advantage of aid. I believe that people need to be helped if they end up in such a situation. I believe the Dutch do an important thing by helping society, the city, and the people.”
ZdG team visited Amoc, but the few Moldovan citizens who lunched there refused to speak. They were reluctant to explain why they came there for a plate of charity food. Relu Cheptanuș, a 34-year-old Romanian who migrated to various EU countries, agreed to talk to us. He said he could not find a job then nor was he willing to return home. “I don’t get along well with my family, I have nowhere to go. However, even if I receive help it’s not what I need and it’s hard,” Relu told us, crying.
Denis Preida is one of the Moldovan citizens who applied for asylum in the Netherlands but was rejected. The ZdG team found him in Soroca where he recently returned. He says he returned from the Netherlands by plane, Warsaw-Chișinău. “Eight persons accompanied us to make sure we return home.”
Denis told us why he left for the Netherlands. “I wanted to get asylum, to get help, to get a house for my family, to have a job. But they rejected my request. They took into account the fact that there are no terrorist attacks in our country, such as in Syria, for example.” Denis admits that this is not the first time he sought refugee status in the EU. Denis knows that in the EU you can benefit from aid including a free return ticket.
“I was in Germany, then in France. I traveled on the mainland for nine months. They consider the situation in your country as a whole, not the situation of the person,” he concludes. However, Denis faces the same financial problems back in Soroca. And he again thinks to leave as soon as possible. “My citizenship is here. It will be fine to get refugee status. However, I will return to Moldova. I will not become a European citizen. I will sell the house over there and come back. Don’t criticize me and I will not criticize you either,” Denis concluded.
The citizens who were taken in organized buses to claim asylum in the Netherlands are mostly Roma ethnics from the communities of Soroca, Glodeni, Rîșcani, the north of Moldova. Most are from Otaci, including women with small children and the elderly over 70. It was difficult to find them in Otaci, the north of Moldova. After they were rejected in the Netherlands, they went to France or Germany. Angela has a residence visa on Libertății Street in Otaci. Last autumn, she applied for asylum at Ter Apel. Her grandmother told us that Angela was in France for about two years, or even longer and added that many went away and are not at home. We asked about other false asylum seekers and the neighbors confirmed that they left for Germany.
Dmitrii Zavoroșchii, the mayor of Otaci, knows the problem. “They are members of the Roma community, who are always looking for a better place. They go abroad to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden. I’m not sure what they’re doing there.”
The mayor is not very optimistic regarding the economic prospects of those who were deported. “There are no jobs here, that’s why they receive social allowances, including for children,” the mayor claims.
The Solution is Education, Communication and Criminal Investigations
Ambassador Tatiana Pârvu says that she discussed the issue with both the Dutch and the Moldovan authorities. She concluded that the Moldovan authorities must actively inform the population about opportunities and difficulties in migration and continue to improve the citizens’ economic conditions.
On January 21, 2020, the Supreme Security Council discussed the issue of hundreds of asylum seekers. The Presidency announced that they examined the issue of Moldovan citizens migrating illegally in the EU countries. President Igor Dodon mentioned that the competent bodies of our country in coordination with development partners take all necessary measures to eradicate this negative phenomenon. However, there was no information about criminal investigations, either pending or completed. At the same time, there was no report about any information campaigns or actions aiming at integrating people who suffered from this phenomenon.
The former head of the National Roma Center, Nicolae Rădiță, is currently an adviser for human rights to Prime Minister Ion Chicu. He speaks the Romani language and has written studies on the problems of the Roma community. Nicolae knows the problem of Roma migrants and considers that there is a need for specialized programs for the community. These programs will empower the members of the community through studies and professional training. This will help them ensure their living wherever they choose to stay at home or abroad. He specified that during the pandemic many Roma families become even more vulnerable because they do not have savings nor stable income.
According to the Association Agreement, Moldova has to ensure its citizens’ rights, including economic rights, so that they are not pushed by poverty and criminal groups to migrate at risk and claim unforeseen or unmerited aid in other states. This is what the European partners expect, as well.
This articles was produced with the support of Russian Language News Exchange.
Alina Radu, Victor Moșneag, Anatolie Eșanu
Photo/Video: Katerina Alexander