Economic migrants in the EU are fewer than expected, survey shows
Issue 66, March 2012
by Dimana Trankova
This periodical has been selected to be supported in a media pluralism promotion contest funded by the Open Society Institute – Sofia. The content of publications in it is responsibility of the authors and in no circumstances should be regarded as an official position of the Open Society Institute – Sofia.
The history of Bulgarian emigration is long and complicated. These descendants of Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians, who themselves arrived in the Balkans about 1,400 years ago, have rarely been afraid to set off in search of a better future elsewhere. At the beginning of the 19th Century whole villages moved to Russia after its unsuccessful wars with the Ottomans. When the Titanic sank in 1912, dozens of Bulgarians from poor mountain villages disappeared with her, indicative of the mass migration to the United States.
Even Communism couldn't stifle emigration completely. Bulgarians worked in the logging industry in the USSR and on engineering and medical care projects in the Third World. There was also the hidden, but constant drip of people trying to escape the system, risking prison or the bullet of some trigger-happy border guard. When the system collapsed in 1989, the drip turned into a flood. Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians formed long queues for visas in front of Western embassies. The estimated number of Bulgarians who left the country in the first 20 years of democracy topped one million.
Today it is difficult to find a Bulgarian family which does not have relatives abroad, some of them as seasonal workers, others residing permanently in foreign countries. The economic crisis has changed the picture further. Some Bulgarian emigrants have returned in the search for (non-existent) jobs here, while new groups of emigrants are leaving in despair at this nation's grim unemployment situation and the overwhelming feeling of depression.
In 2012, the picture of Bulgarian emigration, however, is almost as undocumented as it was in 1912. Bulgaria is in its fifth year as an EU member, but even in the union the number of Bulgarian emigrants is largely unknown, as are the lives they lead and the problems they experience.
Even after the 2011 census it has proved impossible to establish the exact numbers who have left the country, a source in the National Agency for the Bulgarians Abroad who does not wish to be named told Vagabond. The Bulgarian National Statistics office collects data for people living in Bulgaria only, and the statistical data of other European countries needs to be collected and independently checked, and sometimes the sources contradict one another. There is also an unknown number of illegal migrants working in countries where Bulgarians are still excluded from the labour market.
In 2011 the European Commission announced that about 540,000 Bulgarians work and live in other European countries.
This, combined with other data, presents a vague and hypothetical total, but is still the only available statistic for Bulgarian migration within the EU. The largest Bulgarian community is in Spain where, officially, about 170,000 Bulgarians reside. Next is Greece with a reported 80,000 to 120,000 Bulgarian immigrants. This country is the preferred destination for people seeking menial and seasonal jobs in agriculture and home care, and witnessed a sharp rise of official Bulgarian residents after it opened its labour market in 2009. The estimated number of Bulgarians in the UK, with its restricted labour market, is between 80,000 and 100,000.
In December 2011 Germany decided to open its labour market to qualified Bulgarians, but even before that there was a sizeable community of more than 66,000 people. The unofficial data for Italy, which is likely to be a significant underestimation, records 70,000 resident Bulgarians. A significant community of between 32,000 and 50,000 people exists inCyprus. For Austria the numbers are 35,000 and for France and Portugal about 20,000 and 12,000 respectively. There are about 15,000 Bulgarians in the Netherlands.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers