Romania is considered a country of transit for migrants, but it is a destination for 80.000 foreigners and, as the current situation shows, the efforts to integrate these children are insufficient. Some of the children are barely in the second grade at 17 years old, because of bureaucracy, others have nothing to eat, and their parents probably lost their jobs (and only income) because of the pandemic. Rodica Novac, from Terre des hommes Foundation, is project manager of the MINT Mentoring for Integration of Children Affected by Migration project in Romania, and she told us about how the migrant children live in Romania.
Q: How many children arrived in Romania ?
RN: At this moment nobody knows how many foreign children are in Romania, how many are enlisted in the public educational system, how many have access to a family doctor, there are no statistics. The Ministry of National Education cannot say how many foreigners attend Romanian language classes, how many are in the public system. They are completely invisible. We can only say where they come from: in the first trimester of 2020, 162 minors seeked for asylum in Romania and they were from Syria, Afghanistan, Irak, Palestina, Egypt and other countries. The National Health Ministry cannot offer statistics on the foreigners in the ensurance system either. All foreigners here must have access to the public health system as they cannot extend their stay without being enlisted in the medical system, so normally the National Health Authority should have the data.
There are approximately 1.500 children that came here more than a year and a half ago (according to IGI -General Inspectorate for Immigration). But there are also foreigners that come here to work and they bring their families, and who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. They have few possibilities to look for another job (they are also in debt to intermediary agencies). Then there are the many migrants who came with other purposes -to study or are married to Romanian citizens. The students are allowed to work for 4 hours a day, and many were working in restaurants /hotels. There are the children from mixed families who lived abroad and they also have integration problems at school and come from families with very low income.
Q: What are the rights of these children in Romania?
RN: We have several categories of migrants in Romania and in Europe. On one hand, refugees and people with subsidiary protection (a form of asylum, but with less rights than refugees). The refugee children and children with subsidiary protection have the same rights as Romanian children. This applies to adults as well, except they do not have the right to vote or to be a political candidate. In theory, they all have access to the public health and educational system, in the same conditions as Romanians. Plus they can get citizenship after only 4-5 years. All refugees -adults and children -are protected by the International Convention regarding refugees, they have international protection because their return to their home country would put their lives in danger. The parents of these children have the right to work in the same conditions as Romanians.
But in reality, even if they have the same rights, they have problems getting a place to stay, because they can only stay in official centers for a limited amount of time. Then they are supposed to find a place to rent. But families usually have more than one child, so the mother cannot work, and the father needs a well-paid job.
There are other categories of foreigners in Romania: residents from other countries, those who are married to a Romanian citizen, those who came for the family reunification, for studying, for work or others. These have specific rights and are sometimes very vulnerable.
Q: What is the actual situation, besides the rights which they have in theory ?
RN: In reality, the situation is much more complicated . For example the children are hard to integrate in the educational system because they do not speak Romanian, they do not have documents regarding their school years. In general people under international protection coming to Romania or Europe do not have any kind of papers. Without documents it is very hard to get in the equivalent class in the Romanian educational system. In school they can audiate classes in the first year of their arrival, but they are not included in the National Education budget, they do not get teachers to support them, the Romanian language courses are very few and low quality, they are held in other places, they do not get handbooks, they are not registered in the informatic system of the Ministry, they do not get social schoolarships and are not taken into consideration in food programs or others.
The fact that they can audiate does not facilitate at all their learning in the subjects they haven`t studied. There is no program that helps them catch up for subjects they didn`t study in their home countries. They do not know the terms in the respective matters, they learn to get by in Romanian from their colleagues, but they do not know Maths or Geography in Romanian. And another example: if they do not have documents to prove their studies, they must pass exams in all the subjects in order to get an evidence of their knowledge.
Q: Do you personally know a child in this situation ?
RN: Yes and I was very impressed by Ahmed`s story (17 years old), who came from Irak and who is now in a DGASPC center. He came to Romania with a relative, but in the meantime he was left here alone, in the care of authorities. He was enlisted in school, but this 17 years old boy is in the second grade (!), in the Second Chance program, because he didn`t have documents from his school and nobody made sure he got any equivalent. It is terribly humiliating and inefficient, because he speaks Romanian very well, but he only went to school for 2 hours (before the pandemic), because this is how this program works. He would need 10 years in order to finish the primary studies, so he would graduate at 27 ! He is a lost child who stands no chance without school papers, even though he has the same rights as Romanians. He cannot yet go to a professional school, get hired, nothing, he doesn`t exist. Physically he is doing well in the center, but we can say the system failed to integrate him in the educational system and keeps failing, because the Second Chance program is meant for people over 16 who didn`t finish school in time, it was not meant for migrants. It is not meant to solve the problems that migrant children face in Romania.
Q: How did the pandemic affect these children ?
RN: These families have been very affected, the parents lost their jobs and now the main problem is ensuring a place to live and food. Migrants were generally working in restaurants here, in services or construction or commerce and these are very affected fields. Now they clearly have nothing to eat. Then they also have other problems: employers do not know that refugees have the same rights as Romanians and they can be hired without complicated procedures. For the children, the serious problem is that they do not know the language and they have no access to technology or internet, so they cannot attend remote schooling. Even so it would be much more complicated for them to study from home, also because it is hard for teachers to integrate a child that doesn`t speak the language and doesn`t understand.
These people and these children need assistance and NGOs offer direct help. Now their hopes come from the NGOs in the Coalition for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees, who offered help, but their needs are much more complicated. Especially for newly-arrived, those who got out of the one and a half year integration program financed by the government, and who don`t get any financial help anymore.
Notă: Terre des hommes believes in the necessity of a national educational program financed by the state budget, that would make sure all migrant children are enlisted in the public educational system and have access to a preparatory year (for example) in the primary school, access to all facilities that Romanian children have, national programs, social or study schoolarships, including by programs adapted to their needs, such as School after School, financed by the state and/or the Social European Fund. This way, the education system would be more open and effectiv in integrating migrant children.
The MINT project (Mentoring for Integration of Children Affected by Migration) is implemented in Romania by Terre des hommes Foundation and co-financed by the European Union.