The village of Acareva is about 60 kilometres northwest of Pristina in one of the poorest and least developed parts of Kosovo. Acareva is the home of the Rrahmani family. Two brothers live here, two more brothers are guest workers in Germany and Austria. With the money the two brothers send back home the family in Acareva can make ends meet.
There is a long family tradition of men going abroad for work. The husband of Zema Rrahmani, the mother of the household, has worked in Austria for more than 30 years. As his widow, she still receives his Austrian pension. A Kosovo pension would hardly suffice to buy one loaf of bread per day.
Life was hard for women like Zema who married into a new family and then had to stay behind when their husbands migrated abroad:
"When my husband went to Austria there were only two here - his old parents. He said to me… "I take my bags and I will go off abroad, I have nothing here." He took his bag and went. I had eight children, three have died, and five are still alive. Sometimes he did not come home at New Year, but he did come to help in July at harvest time. He never took a vacation and saved his vacation time for the summer months, to help us."
For the children the father's long absence was painful. Rramush Rrahmani, who has recently been appointed director of the Acareva primary school, remembers the long wait for the father to return:
"Yes, look, when we were small kids, we lived alone with our mother and grandparents. Our father visited us every six, seven months and sometimes even less often. It felt bad not to see him for six months. Then there was no telephone, no other information and so we could only communicate through letters."
For many families like the Rrahmani the hardship of migration was the price of economic survival. In the absence of a welfare state, without unemployment benefits, no effective health care coverage and meagre pensions, remittances were the only lifeline. Rramush Rrahmani explains:
"I use the money my brothers send us for the education of the children and for the brother who studies medicine in Pristina. Without these transfers the brother could not study. Yes, the foreign workers play an important role for our family, and for all other families, and for all of Kosovo."