How the collapse of Romanian mining industry left thousands of children without parents

Bălan, Romania

 December is about reunion for Duluman family. The four children of the family, Roxana, Ana, Vlad and Andra have been counting the days to meet their parents for Christmas, who came back from Italy to spend their holiday with them, as they do it every year on this month.

Mihaela and her husband, Vlad, left not only Romania, but also their children when they chose to work abroad twelve years ago. Their destiny was a direct result of mine closures that have hit dozens of towns and thousands of families across Romania in recent years.

Bălan, the family’s hometown, used to be one of the Transylvania’s most important centers for copper mining. Between 1998 and 2006, there have been closed down 462 mines in Romania, and the mine from Bălan was not an exception. This copper mine had 400 years of existence, and during the Golden Age, 6000 of the 16000 citizens were working in the mine.

Vlad, the father of this family, was also a miner, and the news that the mine will be closed down in 2006 caught him by surprise. Without a prospect of getting a job at home, he and his wife decided to get a job in the Italian city of Palermo. But it was just the two of them who left. The children were to stay in Bălan with one of their aunts, and later their grandmother took care of them.

Their eldest child, Andra, was seven when they left, while their youngest was only two years old. The children didn’t realize what was happening to them. They talked to their parents on the phone and via Skype, but, as Andra says, nothing could replace the feeling of actually having their parents by their side. “I wasn’t aware that they left. I understood what happened only when I grew up”, she says.

Andra’s mother confesses that working abroad was a life changing decision. ”I would come back anytime, if they were to offer me a good job “, she says. Twelve years have passed since she and her husband left for the first time. Andra is nineteen years old now, and a mother of her own child, aside from caring for her siblings, being now aware of the reasons behind her parents decision of leaving Romania.

When other pupils of her age where anxious about the final exam that was coming, she was rather anxious because she didn’t know how to tell her parents that she got pregnant in her last year of highschool.

Andra, her son, and her siblings participating to The End of The School Year Celebration (Family Photo Archive)

”Andra, a kid herself, raises another four children. Maybe the things would have been different if I was here”, says the mother with a sad look on her face, sitting next to one of her daughters.

“When I was little I judged my parents for leaving us, but now I understand the reasons behind their decision”, says Andra, who feels like the fact that she grew up without her parents made her become mature and independent.

A report made by Roșia Montană, a private gold mining company, points out that less than 3000 Romanians work in the metal mining industry today, whereas before 1989, when the Romanian Revolution took place, more than one million people were employed in these mines.

Of all the 41 counties of Romania, 16 of them were mining regions. Statistics of The Center for Economic Development show that a total of 155 localities were depending exclusively on the income provided by this industry. Bălan was one of these localities.

“The Romanian government didn’t come up with an alternative when the mine was closed”, says Gheorghe Iojiban, the town’s mayor. More than 8000 people lived in Bălan in 2006, but at the end of 2018, this picturesque mountain town was a home to less than 5000 people.

According to the Romanian Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their child or children stay at home, whereas more than 300,000 Romanian children have at least one parent working overseas.

A study conducted by The Soros Foundation in 2007 shows that 36 percent of the children whose parents are working abroad feel lonely and 20 percent believe that no one loves them. Thirty percent of them are depressed. At a social level, children become aggressive not only verbal, but they can become violent. In addition, many children whose parents are working abroad are more likely to begin to smoke, take drugs, steal, or drop out of school.

This is what some teachers from the ”Geo Bogza” primary and secondary school from Bălan have also shared about the impact of this migration phenomenon among teenagers. They have observed  that these children are emotionally hungry.

”Children whose parents are working abroad hug me before we start the class. The others, they don’t”, says Nicoleta Pinghiriac, a math teacher.

More than a quarter of her students have one or both of their parents working outside Romania. Nagy Silvia, who teaches Romanian at the same school says that there have been cases of crimes even in the primary school. ”These children don’t benefit of psychological counseling, although it’s extremely needed”, she says.

Many families in Bălan are in the same situation like the Dulumans. While the authorities claim that the things have improved in the last two years, the places that once bustled with life are now empty and apartment buildings in which the miners lived are now abandoned.Altough her parents decided to work abroad in order to ensure their children a better life back at home, Andra would never do this to her son, if she were to choose. Actually, her parents asked her to move to Italy. „I won’t live in the country that fall us apart”, says Andra, while watching her son playing in the living room.