He traversed thousands of miles, putting his life in the hands of the “border escorts” who smuggled him from Somalia to the Ukraine, and then on to Romania a few weeks ago. Kasim (29) does not dwell on his extended odyssey. Like the other 50 immigrants lodged this June at the refugee centre in Somcuta Mare, a village in north-western Romania, he dreamt of Western Europe as of a paradise worth taking any risk to attain. But what about the economic crisis, the unemployment, how hard it is to make it in the West? “Go to Somalia for a few days and you’ll see all that’s nothing,” he explains. “In Europe at least you got a chance to survive and that’s enough for us.”
The mirage of the West never loses its allure, but would-be immigrants are still sometimes knocked for six. Kasim’s smugglers promised to take him to Germany for a fat fee. But the Somali ended up in a village in the Romanian boondocks…and was presently astounded by how little it resembled the image he had of Germany from TV.
“They all address us in German,” chuckles Vasile Alb, mayor of Somcuta Mare. “When you see an African or Asian turn up in these parts, you know he’s going to say, ‘Guten Tag.’” At the café in the refugee centre, where the young waitress is Ethiopian, the villagers speak frankly. “I’d never seen blacks except on TV,” admits old man Nicolae. “At first I was wary of them. But you get used to them, and these Africans are alright, they work and don’t make trouble.”
Officially, there are 65,000 immigrants in Romania, and the figure is steadily climbing. This new wave of immigrants – Africans, Indians, Afghans, Iraqis – is handled on location thanks to the Somcuta Mare municipal reception centre. The Romanian State guarantees them accommodation, meals, some clothing, but pocket money is limited to €0.80 a day, the price of a bottle of fruit juice. To make ends meet, they do odd jobs for the local peasants.
Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, the country has been faced with a manpower shortage, what with three million countrymen having left in search of work in Western European job markets. But its EU Member State status now makes Romania more appealing to immigrants. “At first the peasants looked at me a little askance,” admits Kasim. “But I understand them, they’ve never seen blacks before. Now they’re happy when I show up for work. All in all, I’m happy here and I could settle here for good.”
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