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As Jobs Die, Europe's Migrants Head Home

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Author Topic: As Jobs Die, Europe's Migrants Head Home  (Read 39 times)
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« on: April 25, 2009, 09:37:30 am »

                                        As Jobs Die, Europe’s Migrants Head Home

for The New York Times
April 25, 2009

— Six years after the Spanish construction boom lured him here from his native Romania, Constantin Marius Mituletu is going home, another victim of the bust that is reversing the human tide that has transformed Europe in the past decade.

“Everyone says in Romania there’s no work,” Mr. Mituletu, 30, said with a touch of bravado as he lifted his mirrored Ray-Bans onto his forehead. “If there are 26 million people there, they have to do something. I want to see for myself.”

Mr. Mituletu, who is planning to return to Romania next month, is one of millions of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa who have flocked to fast-growing places like Spain, Ireland and Britain in the past decade, drawn by low unemployment and liberal immigration policies.

But in a marked sign of how quickly the economies of Western Europe have deteriorated, workers like Mr. Mituletu are now heading home, hoping to find better job prospects, or at least lower costs of living, in their native lands.

In many ways, this is what the European Union was meant to be, a zone where workers could move freely in search of jobs. But as the economic crisis deepens, fault lines are emerging across the Continent, where borders may be porous but national identities remain fixed.

Indeed, while all workers are theoretically equal under European rules, some may be more equal than others as national, or even local, concerns come to the fore.

Consider Ireland’s capital, which earned the nickname Dublinski as roughly 180,000 Poles, Czechs and other Eastern Europeans went there in search of work after the European Union expanded in 2004. Now, a stunning rise in the unemployment rate, currently 11 percent, is making even the most recent arrivals rethink their plans.

“Since 2000, there has been a resurgence of intra-European migration,” said Rainer Münz, a migration scholar who is head of research and development at Erste Bank in Vienna. “To a certain extent, that’s clearly unwinding now.”

Between April 2008 and the end of this month, as many as 50,000 workers are likely to have returned home from Ireland, mostly to Eastern Europe, according to Alan Barrett of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin.

“Things have changed quickly,” said Monica Jelinkova, 25, who moved to Dublin from the Czech Republic 18 months ago. “I used to know 15 people here. Now there are only four friends left.”

While unemployment is also rising in the Czech Republic, “it is much easier to be at home with family and with friends and not to have a job,” she said, “than to be here and not to have a job.”

Until very recently, countries like Spain, Ireland and Italy were nations of emigrants, not immigrants.

That changed in the decade-long expansion that began in the late 1990s. In Spain, where the growth has been the most explosive, the foreign population rose to 5.2 million last year out of a total of 45 million people from 750,000 in 1999, according to the National Statistics Institute. Ireland’s population, now 4.1 million, was also transformed, with the percentage of foreign-born residents rising to 11 percent in 2006 from 7 percent in 2002.

“In the U.S., it took generations to build up a foreign-born population of that size,” said Demetrios Papademetriou, head of the Migration Policy Institute, a research group in Washington. “These countries have done it at an unprecedented rate, but the society and institutions haven’t even begun to have a chance to catch up.”

Alcalá, a Madrid bedroom community and the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, is home to so many Romanian immigrants — 20,000 by some estimates — that Romania’s president, Traian Basescu, campaigned here for parliamentary elections last fall.

But signs of the reverse migration of Romanians are already evident. “Slowly, slowly, they’re disappearing,” said Gheorghe Gainar, the president of a Romanian cultural association in Alcalá. “When you look for them, you don’t find them. Sometimes you ask a relative, and they say they’ve gone back.”

The reverse exodus from more prosperous countries in Western Europe is likely to add to the economic pressures already buffeting Central and Eastern Europe, where migrants from developing countries are in turn being encouraged to leave.

The Czech government announced in February that it would pay 500 euros, or about $660, and provide one-way plane tickets to each foreigner who has lost his job and wants to go home.

And in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, workers from China have been camped out in freezing weather in front of the Chinese Embassy for two months, essentially stranded after their construction jobs disappeared.

Like the Czech Republic, Spain is offering financial incentives to leave. A new program aimed at legal immigrants from South America allows them to take their unemployment payments in a lump sum if they agree to leave and not return for at least three years. The Spanish government says only around 3,000 people have taken advantage of the plan, but many others are leaving of their own accord.

Airlines in Spain are offering deals on one-way tickets to Latin America, and they say demand has increased significantly. Every day, Barajas airport in Madrid is the setting for emotional departures, as families send their jobless loved ones back home.

Citizens of European Union countries, like Mr. Mituletu, are not eligible for the incentive plan for Latin American migrants, but they are finding other creative solutions to their predicament.

Like many other Romanians leaving Spain, Mr. Mituletu said he planned to take the unemployment money he was owed by the Spanish government back to Romania, where it will go further. He needs only to return to Spain every three months to sign for it. His Peruvian wife, with their children, will follow him to Romania once he finds work.

Regardless of their fate, many immigrants realize that economic circumstances are squeezing locals, too. On a recent weekday evening, Juan and Miriam Garnica, Bolivians who are legal residents in Spain, were sending off Juan’s cousin, who had not found enough work in the fields to stay the three years required to establish residency.

The cousin, Sandro Garnica, 36, looked despondent as he held two backpacks and a new digital camera. But Ms. Garnica, 35, a worker for the Madrid city government, was philosophical.

“We have a plan B,” she said. “At least we can go back to our home. But the Spanish? What do they do?”

Rachel Donadio
reported from Alcalá de Henares,
Madrid and Rome, and

Nelson D. Schwartz
from Paris and Vienna.

Eamon Quinn
contributed reporting from Dublin, and

Davin Ellicson
from Bucharest, Romania.
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