The Conference “Migration and Social Changes in Eastern Europe” took place on 11-12 April 2019 at the Free International University of Moldova (ULIM) on the basis of a partnership between The BEARR Trust and ULIM. The conference involved about 100 participants, including 33 speakers and moderators. Participants came from Moldova (69) and from the UK, France, Italy, USA, Ukraine, and Spain. The conference tried to examine the impact of migration on the health and social well-being of children, adolescents and older people from different perspectives. The conference also discussed some beneficial consequences of migration, such as remittances and the transfer of expertise and know-how through migrants. Thus, experts and conference participants analysed good practices and success stories to encourage active-age people not to migrate. Several speakers emphasized the need to capitalize on the experience of Moldovan migrants to benefit the economic and social development of Moldova.
The purpose of the conference was not only to exchange and disseminate information and expertise on migration. The conference also had a practical aim of improving the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to contribute to the health and social protection of children, adolescents and older people as a result of migration and to elaborate innovative and effective solutions to prevent the negative effects of migration on the population. This practical dimension of the conference reflected the objectives of The BEARR Trust. The concept of the conference was based on an approach developed over 28 years by BEARR, materialized in the annual organization of a conference on health and social protection in London and occasional regional conferences. The partnership between BEARR and ULIM relied on the common assumption of human values of care and responsibility towards vulnerable people.
Both goals – the dissemination and exchange of information and expertise and the empowerment of NGOs – were achieved, a success fully recognized by most of the conference participants in their feedback.
During the first session of the conference, independent experts, academics and members of the Moldovan Government presented different perspectives, some holistic, others focused on specific cases and issues, related to migration in Eastern Europe, especially in Moldova. This session was particularly important in drawing out the contours and vectors of migration and in monitoring the evolution of the phenomenon by different categories of migrants. The several case studies presented deepened understanding of some aspects of migration in Moldova, such as the problems faced by Moldovan migrants in the Russian Federation and the second generation of Moldovan migrants in Italy. Discussions that concluded this session were particularly important and interesting to the participants, who were given the opportunity to ask experts and members of the Government, in particular the State Secretary for Labour and Demography, and the representative of the Office for Diaspora Affairs, questions on burning issues related to migration.
In the following sessions, thematic workshops were organized for participants working in the public and non-governmental sectors. On the first day, the workshops focused on four major themes: children, adolescents, the elderly, and the diaspora’s role in developing communities of origin. The second day of the conference was devoted entirely to workshops on practical themes. This session enjoyed particular success due to its practical approach, aiming at training and updating the participants’ skills, judging by the feedback from the participants after the conference. Moderated by experienced practitioners, leaders and specialists of recognized NGOs in the field, the workshops provided for an exchange of experience and transfer of expertise to help organizations work more effectively with users, access more efficiently material and human resources, attract volunteers, collaborate effectively with donors, other civil society organizations, public institutions and the media. All workshops had a flexible and interactive format. Participants did not hesitate to ask moderators questions and engage in lively discussion on the themes approached. In the opinion of the majority of participants (87%), the workshops reached the goal of providing practical knowledge and tools to develop the capacity and work of their NGOs.
In addition to communication sessions and thematic workshops, the conference offered the opportunity of direct communication between participants and donor organizations at a “donor fair” held on the second day of the conference. This section gave rise to direct and informal communication between conference participants – members and leaders of organizations, academics and students – and representatives of several institutions (philanthropic organizations, international bodies, embassies) traditionally supporting social and especially in migration issues.
The conference days began with a brief introduction, a summary of the previous activity, and ended with a conclusion of the work done during the day. Workshop moderators were invited to summarize key ideas for all participants. After the conference, Nicola Ramsden, Chairman of The BEARR Trust, and Petru Negura, a lecturer at ULIM, invited the conference participants to a discussion on the most important issues discussed at the conference and to be developed in the future. The participants also expressed their most urgent recommendations that should be submitted to the Moldovan government to slow the departure of Moldovans from the country and to ease the situation of Moldovan migrants abroad and their families (especially children and elderly people) remaining in the country.
The evaluation forms completed by the participants showed a positive appreciation of the conference expressed by the majority of the respondents. All participants considered the activities of the conference to be useful or very useful. Most of them appreciated especially the practical and formative activities in the workshops and seminars. Most participants also appreciated the conference for the opportunities for communication and mutual enrichment among participants (many of whom are experts and people actively involved in various projects in the field), experts and representatives of donor organizations. Participants also suggested a number of ideas and proposals to improve the work of conferences in the future. In the end, everyone acknowledged that the conference was a success and provided a significant contribution to the understanding of the phenomenon of migration and the search for viable solutions for addressing migration issues.
Petru Negura, ULIM