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Breaking the Vicious Cycle

An interview with Austrian filmmaker Ed Moschitz about his documentary film Mama Illegal

 

Mama Illegal, a new documentary film by Austrian director Ed Moschitz, explores the hard lives of Moldovan women in the West. We all know that there are people working illegally everywhere around, cleaning our houses and doing jobs no one else wants to do. However, we know nothing more about them. Or maybe we don’t want to know. But the everyday reality of illegal workers is far beyond our imagination. Families separated for years, children growing up without their mothers, the omnipresent fear of being deported back to your country... Ed Moschitz’s film is a deep insight into the lives of Moldovan women who decided to illegaly cross the border and make some money to support their families back home.


The film is included in the 2012 East Silver catalogue; in March 2012 it was screened in Prague at the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival.


Your film Mama Illegal is about the women from Moldova who work illegally in Austria and Italy to make money for their families. What brought you to this subject?

Eight years ago, I had two little children and my girlfriend and I had no opportunity to spend some time outside. So we had to look for a nanny. Friends of ours told us about a woman who was looking for some work in households. They sent us Aurica, a young woman from Moldova who was very good with kids. One day she told us about her own two children whom she hadn’t seen for nearly two years. She explained her situation, that she had an illegal status in Austria and that her escape from Moldova over the green borders was very difficult. That was the first time I met someone like that, before that I'd just read about these people in the newspaper. Her story was so heart-wrenching and exclusive that I wanted to follow her story with a camera. That was the beginning in the film history of Mama Illegal.

 

How did you find the women who would agree with the shooting? I think for many of them it could be a problem to be in the film since they are in the country illegally.

Through Aurica I met other women who came from the same village and all of them were in the same position as her. Most of them were very anxious to talk about their illegal status in Western Europe and their dangerous journey with people smugglers through rivers and forests. It wasn't easy to build up a relationship that would continue longer than a few weeks. Most of the women I talked to broke up contact shortly afterwards. Aurica, Raia and Natasha were the bravest ones. That’s why I worked on this film for seven years.

 

For us it’s unimaginable to leave the country and work illegally as the only option how to feed the family. But in Moldova and other countries, it’s the only way. Do you see any way out of this situation? Is the government taking any steps to improve the situation?

The film is naturally a view from a West European on the lives of people from Moldova. I’ve never been hungry, I’ve never had to leave my children and I’ve never lived in a country with an 80% unemployment. I've never had to pay thousands of euros to people smugglers, to get a better life for my family. So I’ve no right to judge those people. I couldn't accept and I still can’t accept the difference between our children and the children in Moldova: our kids can live with their parents. Even the youngest in Moldova have to do without their parents. These facts are also part of Europe, this so-called third world in Europe. Soon I realized that my family and I were also part of this migration problem. In Western Europe there is a great demand for illegal workers but nobody talks about it, it’s still a taboo! That’s one reason for why we cannot find solutions. The government of Moldova tries to support different developing programs for women who come back to their home country but the income in such a program is not high enough and the political situation in the country is also unstable. And the economic recession doesn't make things any easier.

 

Even if they talk about their illegal work as a temporary solution, is it really a solution? What did the women think about their future when leaving their country? Do they think they will be able to go back one day and live with their families?

They're coming to Western Europe because they hope for a better life. They need a higher income because some of them have to buy construction material for building their houses, or their children need to study. In some areas, the unemployment rate is about 80%. So they have to find solutions for the moment. Most of them plan to go back to Moldova after a few years, but some women can't earn the money they need. So they have to stay longer and longer and during this time their relationship to their family members changes a lot. After years abroad, their own children can hardly remember their mother and the husbands lose confidence. When the women come back, they find out that their relationship with other family members is destroyed, with all the consequences.

 

Raia, Aurica and others are gone for several years. Raia came back only because she received the work permit, but plans to go back. While shooting in Moldova, did you encounter anyone who returned back to the family and stayed in Moldova? Isn’t it a vicious cycle that's very hard to break?

There are some women who don’t want to pay the price for illegal migration: some returned back after a few weeks because they couldn’t stand being without their families. So they made many thousands of euros of debts because they had to pay the people smugglers. Another vicious cycle turns up: where do you get money for the new debts? In each village there is a two class society now - the ones who ‘made it’ abroad and the others who stayed behind or came back poor.

 

It seems as though there isn’t a single family in Moldova that doesn't have at least one parent working abroad. Are there any estimates as to how many people leave the country to work illegally abroad?

There are only estimates. When I started shooting in 2004, nearly one million people had left the country. This was about a quarter of the population of Moldova. Seven years later it was estimated that nearly one-third of Moldovans had left. One of the biggest problems for the country is the ‘brain train’. People with the highest education are the first to leave.


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This text first appeared in IDF's Industry Reel, published at the East Doc Platform in March 2012.

 

Mama Illegal

Director: Moschitz Ed
Producer: T. Riahi Arash
Production company: Golden Girls Filmproduktion & Filmservices GmbH, ORF - Österreichischer Rundfunk

Mama Illegal , Austria, 2011, 95 min, HD, Drama doc, Human Rights, Reportage, Social Issues

They gave the smugglers all their money and risk their life on their journey across borders: Three women from a small town in Moldavia, living now in Austria as cleaning women. On top of their hard job they live a life in illegality without documents, far away from their children and family for years.