|Share this article
This is Enric’s last Christmas at home.
The twenty-nine year old is a highly qualified architect, but as a freelancer he simply can’t afford the cost of living in his home-town of Barcelona.
So he has decided to try his luck in Latin America. Enric is heading for Argentina.
Like him, tens of thousands of young Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese and Irish are fleeing their crisis-ridden countries. Emigration from Europe is on the rise.
“The feeling I have right now is a bit strange because I’m leaving behind my city, my family, the people I love, my friends,” says Enric.
“But I also feel really positive, despite a sense of vertigo. Thankfully, I’m still sleeping well at night, I’m not having any nightmares, but I think I probably don’t quite realise what’s to come…”
It’s time to say goodbye. Enric takes a last look at the Mediterranean.
His mother helps him pack his beloved Catalan independence flag which he is taking with him across the Atlantic.
Enric and his girlfriend are heading to Cordoba, in central Argentina. It is a one-way ticket, with 180 kilos of luggage, including Enric’s favourite books on art and architecture.
Our next stop is in Kilrush, a small coastal town in the south of Ireland, with a long history of emigration.
Twenty-one year old Mary is one of five.
Her youngest brother Joe, who’s three, helps his sister pack her bags. He will grow up without her because Mary is heading to Australia, following in the footsteps of her oldest brother.
“So many people have gone at the moment from around home, my oldest brother Kieran just went to Australia three weeks ago and he left with his friends. And I have a lot of friends from college and a few from home who are going to Australia as well. So there are big numbers leaving at the moment,” says Mary.
Emigration has never been this high since the days of the Irish famine. An estimated 3,000 young people are leaving each month, that’s 100 per day.
Since the crisis struck Ireland in 2008, almost 200.000 young Irish have left to go and live abroad.
And they are taking with them their skills and knowledge, leaving behind a generational gap.
Mary is travelling to Brisbane on the east coast of Australia. Many more will embark on this 28-hour journey. Irish migration to Australia is on the rise.
Mary is a qualified social care worker but, in February, she will start cherry-picking on a farm. It’s a job, and she hopes it will open up the way for a long-term visa and further perspectives:
“It is a big step: Australia is so far away, looking at the pictures, it’s definitely an eye-opener,” she says, leafing through a travel guide.
“I am excited about the change, definitely. From what I have heard, the job prospects for social care workers are great in Australia. They are really looking for people in social care and nursing. And hopefully, I will get something in that area once I’m there.”
Unemployment in Ireland stands at 15 percent, and is even higher among young people: almost a third are out of work.
The public sector is cutting jobs, the private sector is pulling back investment and small businesses are being forced to shut down.
For young Spaniards like Enric, it’s even worse: he faces a depressed labour market with a youth unemployment rate of 50 percent.
“That’s the main reason I am leaving Barcelona, it’s because my work situation here is not good. And work prospects aren’t going to get any better over the next 5 to ten years,” Enric tells us.
Enric’s mother is sad to see him leave but hopes a better life awaits her son in Argentina:
“Well, you’ve been talking about leaving for a while now because of the economic situation here in Spain. I am not surprised. It still comes as a shock, though, when it happens. But I think it’s a great opportunity for you,” says Enric’s mother, Rosa.
Enric’s girlfriend Vicky came to Spain twelve years ago. From Argentina. Immigrants were the first victims of the crisis and now, Vicky is out of work. She wants to go back home.
So what is their advice to anyone thinking of going abroad?
“First of all, you mustn’t be afraid, that’s the first thing,” says Enric. “Then, you need to think about the country you’re moving to, whether you speak the language or need to learn a new one. And you also need to find out about the administrative side of things. But above all, you mustn’t be afraid: you have to just go for it.”
Back to Ireland, where Paul has organised a traditional Irish farewell party for Mary. It’s an old tradition, dating back centuries, when locals left by the thousands to go to America.
“Emigration has a big impact in the area, especially as we are talking about rural Ireland. It has left a great void because our youth is moving away and now we seem to have very few young people,” says Paul Markham, who organised the farewell party.
“It is mostly the age gap from 30 down to 18 or 20 years old, that is the age group that has been most affected by emigration. We are talking about maybe a tenth of the population in the area, in this parish. Out of about 1,700 people, there are easily about 170 gone here.”
Clare county will miss Mary: she is the local beauty queen, elected “Rose of Clare” earlier this year.
Seeing her children leave, Mary’s mother, Shirley, is sad but resigned:
“It is a big change and it feels like there is a generation gone and missing. All these kids are educated, bright, smart and trained, and they’re all going out of the country. And you’re wondering what it’s going to be like, are they ever going to come back? Because they’re all telling us it’s great out there.”
Back in Barcelona, Enric takes a last stroll through the Christmas market, looking for some souvenirs to take to Argentina. He will enter the country with a tourist visa. He has a few contacts but no job waiting for him.
To say goodbye to his native Europe, he has invited his closest friends to a small village high up in the Pyrenees. They gather around a tasty “asado”, a traditional Argentinian barbecue. Catalonian wine flows generously.
Training or a job for every young European – that’s the aim of the European Commission’s “Youth Guarantee” scheme. But until the situation improves, Europe’s most skilled and its best brains will continue to leave, looking for a better chance elsewhere, and leaving a growing gap behind.