Desperate to Earn, Moldovans Risk Exploitation in Western Europe
It was only when he arrived, in the dead of night in July 2021, that Terente knew he was in trouble.
He had handed over his passport to the bus driver, who was supposed to be paid by the man who had arranged Terente's travel. But when the man turned up, he claimed not to have any money on him and promised to retrieve the documents later.
"I realised what was happening," Terente, 31, told BIRN. "I felt fear running through my body and I knew immediately that I had to do something."
One of Europe's poorest countries, squeezed between Romania and war-ravaged Ukraine, Moldova is haemorrhaging people in search of better pay and a brighter future abroad.
According to data from 2021, more than a quarter of all Moldovans live outside of Moldova; Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing cost-of-living crisis is driving more to join them.
"In our country, 70 per cent of parents say they see their children's future abroad," said economics expert Veaceslav Ionita. "In the coming years we will see more young people living abroad than staying at home."
But while some may prosper, many others like Terente are falling victim to fraud and exploitation.
"Many Moldovans don't want to go abroad for long periods, but only for the summer months, to work in agriculture and construction," said Tatiana Fomina, lawyer at La Strada International Centre in Moldova, which helps victims of human trafficking and exploitation.
"But these companies don't explain that just because you can enter a country for 90 days without a visa, you can't work there."
Unsure of the rules and his rights, Terente agreed to go. Little did he know he'd end up racing through the fields of Portugal, desperate to get back home.
Eugen Terente ...
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