15 September 2008


“Daddy said that he would come. And mummy said that she would come in two months.” Marysia, aged just seven, looks hopeful, but she knows that she's kidding herself. “Do you think that they'll come?” She nods, but wipes a tear from her eyes.

by Paul Ulenbelt

Paul UlenbeltThese are the opening lines from a report which appeared in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw on 13th September. Together with her young brother, Marysia is in a children's home in Poland. Her parents aren't dead. They're working abroad, just like many other Poles.

This summer I went on a working visit to Romania. Many Romanians work in Spain and Italy – between two and three million. Everyone I spoke with agreed on one point – that labour migration is a disaster for the children, who are without father, mother, or both, and for long periods. They're brought up by grandparents, or by an older brother or sister. Or they find themselves in an orphanage. Families are disrupted, homes broken, and on a huge scale. In Romania this is leading to falling rates of school attendance and rising illiteracy.

There are plenty of politicians and social scientists who say that labour migration is good for a country. Family members in the country of origin receive additional income from those who migrate. In the countries where these migrants work they close gaps in the labour supply. A win-win situation they call it. A lot of children are, however, the victims of this attitude. Their fate isn't weighed in the economic statistics. The free movement of workers is a principle of the European Union. Those, like Marysia, the Euro-orphans who suffer as a result, count for nothing.

Paul Ulenbelt is a Member of Parliament for the SP.

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