Eliisa Matsalu is an Estonian investigative journalist. She was determined to fight the abuses against migrant workers in her country. And she succeeded - thanks to her journalism and a little help from a DEAR project.
Eliisa knew that migrant workers are often mistreated in Estonia. Violations of their rights were widespread, yet received little attention in the media and public opinion. Eliisa was determined to change that.
The DEAR project “I Am European” was her opportunity: the project offered scholarships to journalists. She won one and started researching and interviewing job placement organisations that deal with migrant workers in Estonia.
After a few months of research, Eliisa published an extensive article and produced a podcast episode about how migrant workers are mistreated in Estonia and across Europe. One refugee expressed her distress about her situation: “I wanna go home, I want to sleep. But I can’t get out of here.”
The reporter highlighted the limitations imposed on the Estonian police. Because of a past court case, the police were restricted in prosecuting employers who employed people illegally. Eliisa researched labour dispute commission documents and other legal cases in Estonia.
The situation was worse than she thought: one case of violation of migrant worker rights was found every three days. And for several years, a contradiction in the law did not allow police to formally fine - but only to reprimand - employers who employed illegal labour.
Eliisa faced many hurdles in her investigations. The hardest part was getting in touch with migrant workers who were mistreated in Estonia. The majority had left the country or did not want to talk to the media. They were scared. The journalist worked hard to gain their trust and captured some of their stories - stories that gave the migrants a voice and provided the human side of the statistics and legal cases against human abuse.
“I heard heart-breaking stories from migrants of how they were mistreated. I could not believe that a modern country like Estonia was not able to protect their human rights. I had to find out why not. And inspire a change.”
What happened next? Her work had an impact!
The Estonian Association of Media Companies recognised the importance of her work and awarded her “best podcast” among their 2021 journalism prizes.
And most importantly, shortly after the story was published, the momentum took off. Her article and stories circulated, and the Estonian Interior Minister committed to change the law. A couple of months later, the police were able to again take people who mistreated migrants in the workplace to court.
Eliisa wants to continue reporting about human rights and workforce mistreatment cases - and make the world at least a little bit of a better place.
The "I Am European" project
The project, “I Am European”, countered stereotypical images of migration. Migrants are often reported as part of statistics – they do not have a name, a story or a voice. I Am European covered migration in a more personal way, to build a more inclusive culture for migrants and refugees in Europe.
The project fostered public debate and increased media coverage of migration, refugee and diversity issues, that are nuanced and evidence-based. The project also published a collection of stories of migrants, organisations and other partners it has worked with. Eliisa Matsalu is one of over 1 000 young journalists who created content on migration, committing to a fairer and more balanced representation of migration.
This project is supported by DEAR - the EU's Development Education and Awareness Raising Programme.