Mama Illegal

By Nicky Armstrong

Women leaving Moldova and crossing the border into Romania and then on to European countries to work illegally has become a mass phenomenon that is tearing families apart.

Bordering Romania and the Ukraine, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, with an unemployment rate of 80%. Mamma Illegal follows three women between 2004 and 2011 as they work illegally in Europe to earn money to provide their families with a better life.

Vienna 2004 – Auralia is making a living illegally cleaning in Austria. As she watches a video of her family back home the demands of being so far away are made clear. She cries as she sees her children missing their mother.

She has chosen to leave her family and work in Vienna in order to send money home. As the film progresses the strain that this is putting on the women and the families is evident. They start to wish they had never let their loved ones go.

Auralia’s family is not a one off – footage of a Moldovan school shows a classroom of crying children, pleading to the camera for their parents to return home. The teacher speaks to the camera saying, “They leave in order to work and hopefully they will be better off afterwards”. Nearly all of the children present in the class have a mother working abroad, some have both parents working in separate countries. The result is a generation of children left behind, being brought up by their grandparents and remembering their parents only through distant memories.

As the years progress the effects on the women become more noticeable. Natasha, a Moldovan woman living in Italy, is very obviously struggling to cope. “I left because I had to, I couldn’t see any other way out”. She refuses to return home. When he receives a letter stating she has to leave the country; she is visibly distressed, fainting when leaving the immigration office. Her messages to her 10-year-old daughter are of love, yet she insists on staying rather than returning to be with her.

“You mustn’t judge me because I left you at such a young age, I am doing this for you”. This reason for their mothers leaving them is repeatedly drilled into the children. As the children grow up into young adults, though, it is interesting to see that they would not make the same decisions as their parents – “I would not leave if I had children of my own, this is my home”.

It becomes clear that the women see what kind of life they could have and when they do finally return home they view their homes as dirty and poverty stricken, the pressure this puts on their marriages could not be made more heart-rending. When Auralia’s husband commits suicide, she shouts at his coffin “why did you leave us?”  The film’s Producer, Arash Riahi, took questions after the screening and explained   that Auralia’s husband could not face her leaving for Vienna again and suicide was his last, desperate attempt to force her to stay at home with her children.

The film leaves you reflecting on what you would do if you were in the same situation – it is in the human condition to want to better yourself and your situation, but at what price?