Monday, April 09, 2018

The Return of Reliu Constantin

"I am officially dead. I have no income. I spend my days going back and forth between governmental agencies, the police station, the courts. I have diabetes, without papers I can't go for a medical checkup."
"At the airport in Bucharest I was surrounded by customs officials. They said, 'You're dead'. I thought they were joking."
"I'm a living ghost. My daily routine has been waiting around, going to fix my mother's bandages, going to check with the tribunal to see if anything has changed."
Reliu Constantin, Romanian returnee
Constantin Reliu, 63, is pictured at his place in the eastern town of Barlad, Romania, on March 16, 2018.
Constantin Reliu, 63, is pictured at his place in the eastern town of Barlad, Romania, on March 16, 2018.  Adrian Arnautu/AFP/Getty Images

A death certificate was issued in 2016 for this man who was missing after having travelled to Turkey in 1992. He would be there still, if Turkish authorities hadn't discovered he was living and working there, though he had no official permission to do so. For close to two decades he lived illegally in Turkey, working first on a construction site, then as a cook. In his first few years there he would return back to his home town in Romania where he had family, and a wife and child.

After his last visit home, in 1999, he convinced himself there was no purpose in returning to his unhappy marriage. He left for good, returning to Turkey and no longer forwarded money in support of his wife and young daughter. He claimed his wife was a heavy drinker, and had affairs with other men. And nor was he immune to the same habits. And that was the end of the marriage, and in fact, the end of his life, for not having heard from her husband in years, his wife asked a Romanian court to declare him legally dead.

And when he returned home to Romania in January of 2018 only to discover that as far as authorities were concerned he was dead, a different court in the country refused to overturn his death certificate. He has no official status, no ID, and without that he cannot obtain work to support himself. His extended family helps him out with what they can afford.

"I cut off ties with everyone, as I didn't want them tracking me down. I knew it was hard for my daughter, but I felt it would be better for her", he explained of his absence and determination to discontinue contact with his family. He had been jailed for 28 days in Turkey for his illegal presence there, before returning to Romania. Before then, in 2013, not having heard from her husband for 14 years, his wife took steps to have him declared dead.

And everyone was convinced he was dead, having no idea he was alive and well and working in Turkey. His daughter is now in her late 30s, is not sympathetic to her father's escapade. She is married with three children and living in Spain. When his mother saw him for the first time on his return to Romania the shock was so great she collapsed and was hospitalized for three days.

He now has the help of a lawyer on a pro bono basis, to help him recover his status as a live person.
And once that happens and he is legally declared among the living, he plans to return to Turkey. "I want to be buried in Turkey. My life is there", he declared.

The town of Barlad, eastern Romania. Photo: SludgeG/Flikr

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