Issue #21, 2005

Travelling Guide
Matei Bejenaru

Even if official statistics show an approximate number of 900,000 Romanian workers in foreign countries, no one can give a precise number. It is estimated that the real figures are between 2 and 3 million people. It is likely that more than half of them are illegal workers. Few commit felonies of various degrees.

Romania has an active population of 8.3 million (age range 20 to 45 years). Romanians who work abroad represent 10% of the country’s population and 25% of the working population. Practically one out of four active Romanians works abroad, legally or illegally.

In 2004, the Romanian expatriates have sent to the country 2 billion euros, according to official statistics issued by the Romanian National Bank while the unofficial amount tops 4 billion euros.

The money sent by expatriates has made a more significant contribution to the budget balance than the foreign investments. Without this money, the current account deficit could have been 4–5% higher, which means a lot of problems. The economic growth of the past 5 years began to be influenced by the money sent from abroad (the 4.9% GDP increase last year was due to the 7% consumption increase whereas the medium wage hasn’t increased the same) so that this indicator becomes almost irrelevant for Romania’s economic development proper.

There is a direct connection between the level of foreign investments and the migration of labor. In Romania, direct foreign investments amount now (1990–2004) approximately 10 billion $ as compared to 25 billion $ in Hungary, over 30 billion $ in the Czech Republic or 40 billion $ in Poland. Most of the Romanians who leave the country for work come from the regions of Moldavia and Wallachia, where there are fewer investments. The destination countries are Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Israel, Great Britain and Ireland. Either they entered these countries legally or illegally in order to find work, many Romanian workers have stories worth listening to.

Translated by Izabella Badiu



MATEI BEJENARU is born in 1963, Suceava, Romania.

Studies: 1983–1988 Politechnical Institute of Iași, Romania, 1990–1996 Arts Academy of Iași, Romania.

Director of “Periferic“ Biennial, Iași. Since 2003, Director of Vector Gallery in Iași.

Selected Solo Exhibitions: 2005 “INTER“, R O O M Gallery Bristol and Vector Gallery Iași; “Strawberry Fields Forever“, “Galeria Nouă“ Bucharest. 2003 “Salut/Ave Bachtalo”, Offspace Gallery, Vienna. 2002 “Mehr Chancen Fur Unsere Jugend”, Kulturkontakt Gastatelier, Vienna.

Selected Group Exhibitions: 2005 “Situated Self“, Museum for Contemporary Art Belgrade, Tennis Art Palace Helsinki. 2004–2005 “We are what we are – Aspects of Roma life in contemporary art“, Minoriten Gallery Graz, Jana Koniarka Gallery Trnava, Skuc Gallery Ljubljana. 2004 “I Am Here You Are There...“, GFZK Leipzig, Germany. 2003 “U-Topos“, Tirana Biennial 2, Albania. 2001 “Never Stop the Action“, ROTOR Association, Graz, Austria. 2002 “Personal-Public Space”, Cacak, Yugoslavia. 2001 49th Venice Biennial, Context Project, Romanian Pavilion, Venice. 2000 “Transferatu”, Ifa Gallery, Berlin.



Travelling Guide



General Information

If you want to go to Great Britain or Ireland and you have no chance of getting a visa from the Bucharest ambassies of these countries, you must carefully size up the chances you take when you decide to cross their borders without having the legal papers. Most of the illegal workers who decide to work in England bare in mind the following circumstances:

– the wage per hour for working illegally in England, which, according to some statistics, is 40 to 60 percent higher than in Spain and 25–30 percent higher than in France;

– the cost of living, 30 percent higher than in Spain (a reason for not trying to work in England);

– the extent of freedom for the illegal worker (there are no identity cards in England). For those who wish to get the residence papers afterwards, the law is more permissive than in other European countries. It is worthy of note that when leaving Great Britain, there is no stamping on the passport, so you can leave this country legally, even though you came in illegally.

There are several ways you can get into these two countries. The first condition is to reach France, Belgium or Holland (the guide does not offer any information about this country). A Romanian passport allows you to travel without problems through the Schengen space and Switzerland. In order to get there, the harshest filter is the one at the west border of Romania. According to the normatives issued by the Minister of the Public Administration and Interior, if you do not have an official invitation from a private or a corporate body, stating, along with the reason for visiting, that you are provided with housing, you must show the following papers at the border:

– a Romanian valid passport;

– a sum of minimum 500 Euro;

– a medical insurance (costing about 140,000–300,000 Lei, depending on the insurance’s length). You can buy one from any authorised travelling company in Romania.

More details about the demands that the Romanian citizens must comply with may be found in the Law nr. 580/23.10.2002.

There are several routes you can use in order to enter England or Ireland:

1. By water, from any of the harbours Le Havre and Calais, in France, or Zeebrugge and Antwerpen in Belgium, or Rotterdam in Holland. Be it by train or by bus, when you leave Romania you must reach one of these harbours.

2. By train, passing through Eurotunnel (Calais-Dover).

3. By plane.

B. Ways of Getting to France or Belgium

B1. By Bus

It is the cheapest way. For example, a return ticket Iași-Paris costs about 170 Euro (valid for 30 days) or 240 Euro (valid for 6 months), and a return ticket Iași-Bruges costs 275 Euro. The main inconvenience with this way of travelling is that the border checks are more severe and unpredictible, depending on the customs officers. Another reason for the more minutely controls is that the majority of the legal and illegal Romanian workers travels by bus.

Some of the obscure travel companies help those who wish to cross the border by landing them 500 Euro, with their profit included in the ticket price. It is advisable that you carry 20–30 Euro for tipping the policemen. Never count the money in front of the other travellers or the drivers. In many cases, the travellers were robbed in the toilet of the first Hungarian highway stop, with the suspicion that the drivers themselves informed the gangs of thieves about the travellers. Keep away from all the slicks wandering around the buses during the customs wait and asking the travellers to play “alba-neagra” or other games, resulting most surely in the loss of your money.

If, taking into consideration the cost, you decided to take the bus, chose one of the well-known companies from Romania: Atlassib, Amad Touristik, Marshall-Turism or the international operator Eurolines. There will be a border check when passing from Romania to Hungary, respectively from Hungary to Austria, where you will have to wait for at least two hours. If you do have the necessary money and papers, you will have no problem passing. Just to make sure, there must be a reason for your visit (for example, visiting a relative in Paris or Bruxelles). No matter where you want to go, you will switch buses in Frankfurt. There is a direct line to Bruges via Bruxelles, which is 15 kilometres from Zeebrugge (you may take a local bus to get there). Another line will take you to Paris, where you can take another Eurolines bus to Le Havre or Calais.

B.2 By Train

It is most convenient to go to any CFR travel agency and buy an international Inter-Rail ticket, which is about 1,400 RON (about 400 Euro), which you can use to travel for a month anywhere in Europe, including Great Britain. You only have to write down the routes you use and the number of the train on a chart on the ticket. You will have to pay an extra charge for the sleeping car or for the ultra-fast trains in France.

There is a very convenient train leaving each day at 5 p.m. from the Bucharest North Railway Station, reaching Westbahnhoff Station, Vienna, next morning at 9 a.m. It is advisable that you pay an extra charge for the sleeping car. There are two borders to be crossed: between Romania and Hungary (Curtici-Lokosháza), respectively between Hungary and Austria (Hegyeshalom and Bruck a.d. Leitha). In the first case, if you have a valid passport, the 500 Euro and the inssurance, there would be no problems, as the check is pretty fast. For the second border cross, the Hungarian and Austrian revenue officers get on the train at the Hungarian station, making a passport and customs check on the way between the two borders, avoiding thus the long stops. If your passport is all right and if you had no problems in the past (they check it on the computer), you would have no problems passing.

There are some good connections from Viena Westbahnhoff Station to France and Belgium via Munich after just a three hours wait, so that you arrive in Paris or Bruxelles next morning (fig. 1).

C. Calais

Above all, it is very important that you don’t go on this trip by yourself. It is advisable that you have at least one colleague you can count on. However, if you left the country alone, you can meet other Romanians during the Paris stop, in front of the Romanian church in Paris. Here you can find the latest information about entering England. It is true though that the number of Romanians meeting there decreased because of the visa liberation in the early 2003.

Once in Calais, you must find the central park Richelieu, where Romanians meet evey afternoon. You will easily identify them due to the clothes and the language. Here you will find the latest information from the harbour and the Eurotunnel ramps. If you fail to sleep over at a Romanian who is working in the area, the best solution is to rent a cheap room for a couple of days at the city students’ hotel called Auberge de la Jeunesse, on Avenue de Maréchal Lattre de Tassigny. You can get there by taking bus No. 3 in front of the railway station and getting off at the Pluviose stop. The price for one night at the hotel is 16 Euro, which is very decent. Another thing that you should know is that in the evening, along with the groups of Romanians in the Richelieu park, local homosexuals show up and make appealing proposals, offering you housing, food and even money in exchange for sexual services. Some of the younger boys go along with that.

The most efficient way of going to England through the Eurotunnel is to get on a train or a loaded truck passing through the Tunnel or to embark on a ferryboat from the harbour of Calais (fig. 2.1., fig. 2.2). In order to do so, you have to go to a sports articles shop and buy a sleeping bag with a double alu­minium foil, granting a perfect thermic isolation. Why would you need such a bagțStarting with 1995, the French, the Belgics and the Dutch introduced thermic and sweat senzors able to sense the presence of a living body in a container. The bag will assure your protection.

Based on the information received from the other Romanians, it is advisable that you visit the railway yard, where the waggons going to England through the Eurotunnel wait. The main railway yard is between Rue Hoche and Rue Colbert, about 30 minutes walk from the Richelieu park (fig. 3). You can easily jump over the fence. There is a panel on each waggon with the number of transportation, the date and the destination. It’s relatively simply to get on the waggons covered with tarpaulin (fig. 4). It is also possible to position yourself under the waggon, which is risky, or to unseal the waggon and break in. In either case, you have to get off the train at the first stop in England. Based on the information you gather, the following night you get on the waggon. It is advisable that the train leave at night. It would be fortunate that, with the help of other Romanians, you make acquaintance with someone working at the railroad yard; once paid (about 200–300 Euro each), he can give you all the information you need and help you get on the waggon. Never get on the train alone! Leave word to those you trust about when you leave and on what train! Take at least 4 litres of drinking water, some pills, chocolate bars, bread and some dry salami. It would be great if you had a mobile phone, with the roaming service on. Your chances chances are higher in the winter, because on frosty nights the patrols of officers with dogs make superficial checks.

Another solution is to get on a truck waiting in the big parking at the Eurotunnel terminal. Based on the information you have, you must find out the date and the time when the truck leaves, and install yourself unde the truck during the night, wrapped in the thermo-isolating bag. At the first stop in Dover, England, you get off.

D. Le Havre

Once in Le Havre, you can easily reach the harbour area, which is large and divided into several piers. Le Havre is the largest commercial harbour of France. You can reach the harbour from the centre of the city by walking about half an hour on Avenue Amiral de Chilou. You must reach Quai d’Atlantique, wherefrom loaded boats and ferryboats leave for England, Ireland, Spain and Portugal (fig. 5). The first two things you have to do are: to get an overall and a crash helmet and to buy the harbour newspaper from the booth in front of the harbour headquarters. The protection equipment costs a few Euros and you can find it at one of the special stores in the city. You can also take it from one of the Romanians who doesn’t need it anymore. Dressed like this, you can enter Quai d’Atlantique without having any problems through one of the acces gates after the lunch break, when you can intermingle with the other workers.

The harbour newspaper will give you complete information about all the departures and arrivals: the date, the time, the destination, the departure and arrival berth and the transporting company. There is a railroad yard for the cargo boats, where the containers are lifted using cranes, wherefrom railroads belonging to every pier start. Here, the containers are being stacked together (up to four levels on the vertical) in order to be shipped. Other containers are brought with cargo trucks and unloaded in order to be lifted on the boat afterwards (fig. 6).

D.1 Basic Information about the Containers

The containers have two standard lenghts: 6 metres and 10 metres. They all have the same hight and width. Their locking system is simple, based on a metal lever, a locking bar which is sealed (fig. 7). The containers can be easily unlocked with a metal lever. If you are handy, you can unlock it without breaking the seal; thus the breaking in could be observed only at a close look, which doesn’t happen when the container is loaded by the crane.

There is a panel on each container stored at the harbour, with all the information about the destination, departure and the content. Along with the information from the harbour newspaper, you have all the necessary data not to miss your destination. Once in the container with the desired destination, check the ratio of the amount of load to the remaining space. The more space you have in the container, the easier you can breath. Each container has two little air holes on the upper part of the door side. Unfortunetelly, the size of the holes is small, as they were designed to protect against the condensation which may damage the goods. It is advisable that no more than three persons should be in the container.

The special containers, with a tarpaulin top, are preferable. They usually carry large equipments which don’t fit through the door and which are fit in with a crane through the upper side. You can enter more easily in one of this con­tainers and you also can breathe without having any problems.

D.2 Travelling by Boat

The first thing you have to do after finding out what boat will take you to the desired destination in England or Ireland is to check out the identity of the shiping company. You subject yourself to great risks if you get on a boat or a ferryboat owned by a Filipini, Taiwanese or Thailander. It is advisable that you chose an European, American or Canadian company. Here we have to talk in detail about your position on the boat.

Another possibility is to remain hidden in the container all along the journey and get off in secret after it is unloaded in the harbour berth. There is a story going around among the illegal workers about a group of Romanians who entered into some special containers carrying export cars and had no reason of gettting off them all along the journey. Generally speaking, the journey from Le Havre to Cork or Dublin in Ireland or Southampton, Plymouth, Bristol and Liverpool in England takes maximum two days, so it’s endurable to remain in the container untill the end.

If for various reasons you cannot remain in the container, you get out and surrender yourself to the shipmaster. He will arrest you and deliver you to the Immigration Bureau from the destination harbour. The problem is that his company must pay a fine which may exceed 5,000 dollars. There were cases when, in order to avoid paying the fine, the shipmasters of some Asian companies preffered to throw the clandestine passangers overboard. This is what happened in 1995 with the shipmaster of Maersk Dubai company, who threw overboard into the Atlantic Ocean three Romanians who, obviously, ended up drawned or eaten by sharks. It is for this reason that you should embark on a boat with European commanding officers, because there’s no way you are going to end up like this.

As mentioned before, it is necessary to have at least four litres of mineral water, several chocolate bars, bread and dry salami, some pills, a flash lamp, a lever, a hammer and pliers. Never travel alone.

Many of the loaders working in the harbour come from Maghreb and may be easier to bribe for helping you sneak into the containers. If you have the chance of meeting someone who can make your acquaintance with one who is willing to cooperate, you will be spared the effort of opening the container.

E. Zeebrugge

The Zeebrugge harbour is about 15 kilometres from the city of Bruges (Brugge in Flemish). To embark from this harbour, you first have to reach Bruges, where you will live a few days, untill you find the right boat. If you don’t know any Romanians living in the area, willing to lodge you for a couple of nights, then you can go to Bauhaus International Youth Hostel, on Langestraat 135, five mintes from the central plaza. At the railway station you can take the bus No. 6 or 16. A night at the hotel costs about 16–18 Euro, depending on the number of persons in the room (anyway, you are with at least one Romanian).

You can take a bus and in maximum 30 minutes you can reach Zeebruge, the final destination and the harbour where the container terminals in Britannia­dokk area are (fig. 8 and 9). All the details presented for the Le Havre embarking apply here too, except that the risk of being caught wandering about the harbour is smaller. There are a lot of boats leaving for the east coast harbours of Great Britain: Southampton, Dover, Dartford, Purfleet, Harwich, Felixstowe, Grimsy, Immingham, Hull, Middlesborough (fig. 10).

F. Travelling to England via Milano

Paradoxically, a one week stop in Milan can help you enter England without problems. In order to get there, you can take the train, Bucharest-Vienna, passing through Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and entering Italy through Trieste; here you get off and take another train for Milan (fig. 11). If you have a valid Romanian passport, the health inssurence and the 500 Euro, you can enter without any problems, even though sometimes the Italian customs officers may give you a rough ride. Once in Milan, you will get into Romanians everywhere and with their help you will manage to find a place to sleep and to achieve your goal: getting a NINo (a British National Insurance Number, a paper that you need in order to work officially in England) and an Italian passport with your name on it. It is the most risky part of your incursion and you must acknoledge the danger you put yourself through by using fake Italian identity papers with your name. The prices are high, too, going up to 1,000 Euro for both papers.

If you got lucky enough to find a passport and a NINo with your name on it, you will officially be an Italian with the right to work in Great Britain. From Milan, you take the train to Paris and then to Lille, where you will get on the high-speed train Eurostar, which will transport you to London in two hours. At the Lille Eurostar terminal, in the central railway station, you have to pass the same filtres that you would have on an airport: an X-ray baggage check and a passport check. It is a quick and superficial check, so your chances to officially get on the train are high. The British border officers also get on in Lille; they summarilly check the travellers’ passports up to Dover. In some cases, they do not even check all the passengers. If you are fortunate enough to pass these checks, you can get off in London as a happy person.

You can also take the Eurostar from Paris, but the price is higher than in Lille.

G. By Plane

You can enter England without a visa if you get a plane ticket with a stop on Heathrow Airport. Here you have a scenario with great chances of succeeding:

– you buy a plane ticket from a travel agency from your city for a Scandinavian city (Oslo, Bergen, Helsinki), on the condition that, when buying the ticket, you ask to switch planes on Heathrow Airoport, near London, so that you arrive as late as possible in the evening and have the next flight next morning (fig. 12). I have chosen the flights to Scandinavia on purpose, because these contries do not ask that the Romanian citizens to apply for their entrance visas in Bucharest.

– once in Heathrow, you have two choices: either sit down in a chair at the airport and wait for the next morning flight or go to a hotel in the area to spend the night. In the first case, the airport closes at 1 a.m. and you are asked by the security officers to leave the area. Due to the fact that you tell them that you do not want to go to a hotel, they invite you to the border police officer who gives you a 24 hours entrance visa for Great Britain and asks you to go to another waiting space, where from you can leave the airport legally. In the second case, if you do want to sleep at a hotel in the area, you have to take a special bus that will take you there. If you are fleet of foot and cold-blooded, you can avoid getting on the bus and you leave the airport.

A comparative chart of costs and risks for crossing the border in different places can be observed in fig. 13.

H. How One Can Live and Work in Great Britain

Once illegally in this country, you have to know to manage in order to stay and work for as long as possible without being traced and sent back to Romania.

H.1 About the Papers Necessary in England

The English don’t have identity cards and may identify themselves with any “photo-ID document”, which in most cases is a driving licence. For the last two years there has been much talking about introducing ID cards for English citizens and at the beginning of July, the Parliament passed a law in this regard. It’s well to know that foreigners too will receive an indentity card. Until now, the law stated that you were free to declare any identity when opening a banking account.

In order to work legally in England you need a National Insurance Number (NINo) and a banking account at a British bank. This paper can be obtained in several ways and the necessary papers are:

– the passport with a working visa for England;

– the proof that you already work for somebody (either as an emploee, in which case you have a work-permit, or as free lancer, in which case you have to register as such to the revenue authority);

– the proof that you have an account at a bank in Great Britain;

– the proof that you have a residence (rented or bought).

When you have all these papers, you schedule for an interview at DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), where you have to fill in another form. After two other weeks you will receive their answer: if it is positive, you receive the NINo card; the answer may be negative, if they feel like it.

H.2 About the Illegal Romanians in Great Britain

In most cases, the illegal Romanian immigrants buy a west-european NINo (usually an Italian one) from the England or Italy black market. This way, the authorities regards them as Italians working as free lancers.

You can find work with the help of the Romanians living in England for longer and which can introduce you to an employer. Most of the illegal workers live in London. Some of them pay the traffikers thousands of sterling pounds in order to help them bring their relatives or friends from Romania.

Most of the Romanians work on construction sites, based on a paper called CIS, which one can obtain quickly, even if he entered the country illegally. In case you managed to buy an illegal NINo on the black market and opened a bank account at a sub-office of a bank that doesn’t request too many papers, you can be legally employed. Anyway, it is safe to stay away from the police filters and checks. It is advisable not to use the subway, where there are more checks, but rather take the bus, even if it takes longer. Sometimes the Home Office Police makes raids on places where one can meet illegal immigrants, like the site yards or the streets known as meeting places. If you are caught, you are sent back to the country, losing the right to exit the country for 5 years (that is if you didn’t break any other laws). Generally speaking, if you are connected to more groups of Romanians, you will find out that the rumours about the raids or the legislation go about very fast. You have to pay attention, because they are often not entirely true.

The Romanians rent houses together, where, in 4–5 rooms, up to 15 persons live using the same bathroom and kitchen. In S-W London, area 3, one can find many houses rented by Romanian immigrants. It is safe to keep away from the gangs of Romanian crooks, who frequently rob their own compa­triots. Most of the Romanians have poor English skills and that’s why they cannot read and understand the laws and regulations regarding the immigrants. In many cases they are tricked by rumours, they cannot conform to the demands of the Home Office and, as a result, they are denied the extension of the visa. The majority of the illegal immigrants are young men. Women don’t come to England on their own because it’s risky and they cannot find any other jobs than those of waiting girls or washers, poorly paid with 5 pounds/hour.

Many Romanians living in England complain about the food and the wheater, more humid and depressive than in Romania. They all want to get as much money as possible in order to come back and invest them back here, in the country.

Translated by Alex Moldovan