Interview with Anatolie Coșciug

Anatolie Coșciug teaches at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and is a researcher in the field of migration at the Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Bielefeld (Germany), with a thesis on migration, entrepreneurship, and the transformation of Romanian society under the effect of these phenomena. He was and continues to be involved in research projects focused on Romanians’ emigration abroad as well as on foreigners’ immigration to Romania. In 2019, he coordinated the research whose outcome consisted in the publication titled The Integration Index of Immigrants in Romania.

You are an international migration researcher. How did you come to study migration?

It was a combination of factors, both personal and contextual, that formed the basis of this choice. On a personal level, I am and have been an immigrant, I have lived for longer or shorter periods of time in several countries, and I grew up and trained in environments where migration was ubiquitous and considered a very important phenomenon. Studying migration was my way of giving something in return to the communities in which I grew up and trained.

Beyond the factors related to the personal sphere, I believe that I am part of a generation of researchers who have fully benefited from the fact that migration has become an increasingly important topic in Romania and has received increasingly more attention from the civil society, academic world, and public policy. For example, in the last decade, several research projects have been launched that are focused on migration, to which I could also contribute, and which have left their mark on me. Last but not least, I was able to benefit from the fact that Romania is portrayed as one of the most important countries of emigration in Europe and numerous international studies also include a component that refers to Romanian migrants. Thus, I was able to participate in several international research projects that were also interested in the Romanian context, which in turn left their mark on me.

How challenging, intellectually and emotionally, is it to work with refugees?

It is very complicated, I would even say that for me it is one of the most challenging issues I have encountered so far for several reasons. First, it is a topic that is very polarizing, more so than other topics. For example, the results of our surveys show that there is one group of people that is totally against the idea of ​​receiving refugees and another group about the same size that is totally in favor of receiving refugees and not many people position themselves between the two extremes.

This polarization comes with several problems, for example the fact that it is difficult to reach a consensus in these conditions, but also the fact that me and my colleagues with whom I worked on this topic have received numerous direct threats to our physical and intellectual/academic integrity, from both the pro- and against-migration camps. Another challenge that both me and my colleagues face in researching the refugee/migration issue consists of doing research that is as relevant as possible to public institutions and for developing public policy. It is a pressure that it is not felt as strongly in studies on other topics that we have worked on and that can come with a few hidden costs, such as the tendency to work with the categories, definitions and topics considered important by the public institutions

How do you think the 2015 refugee crisis was managed in the European Union and in Romania?

It is difficult to give a “good” or “bad” answer – there were many positive and less positive aspects. I was in Germany at that time, and I remember that the motto used by the Germans, “wir schaffen das” (we will succeed) represents quite well how the flow of refugees was managed at the European Union level – there was a lot of openness and enthusiasm at the beginning which in time has transformed into skepticism, votes for anti-migration parties, Brexit and other similar phenomena.

Compared to other countries in the region, Romania has been a generally positive example of how it has managed the flow of applicants for international protection. For example, it was among the first countries in the region to accept the so-called quota system, participate in a pilot project with a transit center in Timișoara, and in general the population was open to intervene and support the integration process of refugees.

How complicated is the process of integrating immigrants in Romania, especially those from the Middle East, who have a different religion?

Before giving an answer, I would like to make a remark – there is no clear definition in the academic scholarship about what it means and how we should measure the integration of immigrants. This is somewhat unexpected if we consider that studies have been conducted on this topic for more than a century. The situation is even less clear in Romania, where few studies have addressed this topic and even fewer have been able to point out a validated and empirically anchored direction in this regard.

The results of our research show that, on average, the degree of immigrants’ integration in Romania is medium to high, but some groups of immigrants seem to integrate better and faster than others. For example, immigrants who come from contexts similar to Romania or who know the Romanian language (for example immigrants from the Republic of Moldova) have a faster and smoother integration. But the good news is that the differences in integration between groups seem to be fading over time. For example, after living in Romania for more than five years, immigrants coming from both countries like Romania and different countries reach similar levels of integration.

It should also be emphasized that integration is a process involving many actors, not just immigrants. For example, it is important for immigrants to be “allowed”, or even helped, to integrate by the destination society. Although public opinion is generally pro-migration and pro-integration even when we specifically ask about groups to which there is usually some reluctance (e.g., refugees or immigrants who have a different religion), what we observe in our studies is that certain groups of immigrants are “helped” more in the integration process. For example, immigrants with higher education, those who have a Romanian partner or those who live in major cities or in areas where immigration is more present seem to be more supported and thus for them the process is less complicated.

In addition to immigrants and the general population, public institutions also play a very important role in this integration process. The results of our research indicate that most public institutions are not aware of, nor prepared, for this role. However, in recent years we have seen encouraging signs in this regard, with increasingly more public institutions at the local, regional and central levels becoming more involved.

What resources do you think immigrants/refugees need to successfully integrate into Romanian society?

Immigrant integration is a process that faithfully reflects the society in which it takes place. In other words, if public institutions are not used to providing quality services and the population has a low level of trust, this will also affect the way in which immigrants can integrate. In addition to the support of public institutions and openness from the general population, I would also add here a favorable legislation, which does not restrict certain rights (for example, the right to vote and be elected, the right to hold public office, the right to be a member of trade unions, etc.).

Another important resource that immigrants do not have access to in order to successfully integrate into Romanian society – access to public funds. For example, in our research we asked all the county seat town halls and the Bucharest town hall if they make public funds available to the immigrant communities for various activities and we found that there are no such programs.

Can you tell us about your civic involvement in projects related to immigrants and refugees?

I am currently coordinating a larger research project on this topic, a project whose goal is to create an observatory of immigration and integration in Romania. In other words, we aim to conduct annual research that allows us to have a longitudinal view of the phenomenon. So far, we have managed to do this for the last four years, and we hope to get funding to do this for the years to come. This project is extremely important for the Romanian context because it is one of the few initiatives that collect empirical data about this phenomenon directly from immigrants and refugees, and these collected data are triangulated with data collected from the public institutions and the general population.

Besides this research, I was involved in the publication of articles and scientific books on this topic. Some of these studies are used by various public institutions and international organizations operating in Romania or in the region to have a better understanding of the phenomenon in Romania and in substantiating public policies.

Finally, whenever I have the opportunity I participate to courses, conferences, workshops, symposia but also TV shows or media appearances in which I try to bring this phenomenon into question and counter some stereotypes and false information that circulates about immigrants and refugees in Romania.

How do you see things in Sibiu, respectively in other cities in Romania (e.g., Cluj-Napoca), regarding these aspects?

It is important to mention here that neither Sibiu nor Cluj are important centers that attract large refugee communities despite the vibrant economic, cultural and educational life but also the relatively large immigrant communities that live there. For example, of the more than 10.000 foreign citizens living in the Cluj county in 2020 (the second largest community after Bucharest-Ilfov), only about 100 were beneficiaries of international protection and no beneficiaries of international protection were registered in Sibiu county among the nearly 3.250 foreign nationals.

In our studies we have tried to compare pro or anti-immigration attitudes at the level of regions/cities, and we could observe, somewhat contrary to our expectations, that those areas that have larger immigrant communities also tend to have more pro-migration attitudes, but also, more open public institutions in support of immigrant integration. In other words, the larger the refugee community, the greater the support provided for the integration of that group.

I would also add that Cluj is an interesting case in the field of integration because it is developing for the first time in Romania an integration strategy for foreign citizens that will most likely be implemented this year.

Translated Fawzia Rehejeh

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