Coming To The UK?

Posted on August 1, 2013

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I hadn’t even set foot on Romanian soil before I was accused of being a racist. On a plane bound for Bucharest, I started talking to the young man next to me. He asked me why I was going to Romania. “We’re making a documentary about whether Romanians and Bulgarians are going to…”

He put his hand up to stop me mid-sentence. “Ah yes, you’re racist!”

“Really – why?” I ask.

“You English – you don’t like us. Your newspapers hate us.”

I resist the temptation to correct him and say I’m Scottish. But I spend the rest of the journey being harangued, in a good-humoured way, about the British press and how he found many people here suspicious and unwelcoming. He worked in a bar in London, but tells me he won’t be going back when restrictions are lifted next year on where Romanians and Bulgarians can work within the EU.

A few days later, I meet and interview Gabriel in a park in Bucharest for ITV’s Tonight programme. Unlike the man on the plane, he says he will be going back. Then he tells me his story and I can’t quite believe why he would want to. He paid ridiculous amounts of money to agencies in Romania and the UK to get a work permit. He eventually found work in a hotel in Kent where he tells me he was treated like a slave. Made to work 130 hours a week, paid four pounds per room he cleaned, housed in freezing conditions, then fired when he complained. He is painfully thin and looks traumatised. But he says he will go back and find more work in the UK when he has recovered, because he still needs to earn money to pay back over a thousand pounds in agency fees.

Gabriel

From here I go to the office of the Home Secretary Bogdan Tohaneanu. He shows me the bullet holes in the walls outside his window – scene of the 1989 revolution – and we talk football. He’s a Liverpool fan. But when the camera is switched on, the joking stops and he has one message.

“We are not savages. The Romanians who do go to the UK next year will go to work, not to sit at home on benefits. But not that many will go.”

I remind him that Romania is one of the poorest countries in the EU; that the average wage is £400 a month. The human instinct is to look for opportunity, betterment. He proudly tells me that the IMF is predicting 2 per cent growth in the Romanian economy in 2013; and that, because of language, Romanians are more likely to go to Germany than the UK.

It’s an unsatisfactory conclusion, but of course no-one knows how many Romanians and Bulgarians will come here next year. Estimates have ranged from 13,000 to 50,000. In my film for ITV’s Tonight programme, we hear from those who worry about the impact on jobs and public services and those who think a new wave of migrants will contribute taxes and skills; from those who think something fundamental is being lost in British society and those who think it’s being enriched; from those who fear EU migration and those who need it.

“Tonight: Coming To The UK?” was broadcast on ITV on Thursday 1st August. You can watch it on the itv player by clicking here

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Posted in: News