Attitudes in UK have changed, say immigrants

Fears have calmed as the expected influx of Romanians and Bulgarians does not come to pass


In today’s world, airline websites, such as that of the Hungarian-based Wizz Air, can be the first to herald that significant population movements are afoot, or indeed, that the opposite is the case.

For months, public debate in Britain has focused on fears that large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians would arrive after free movement restrictions lifted on January 1st.

Since then, they have been noticeable by their absence. For example, passengers intending to travel from Bourgas on the Black Sea next month could this week buy a one-way ticket for just €74.

Prices have not changed much, if at all, for months, bar the usual fluctuations that can be found to and from a destination popular with British tourists.

On Thursday, Conservative MPs in the House of Commons eagerly wanted to vote on an amendment put down to the Immigration Bill from Conservative MP Nigel Mills, who is facing pressure over immigration in his Derbyshire constituency.

It demanded that restrictions on nationals from both countries – which were in place since Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 – should be brought back into force.

In the end, the amendment was sent into the long grass: “Even with all the whips and the pressure, they obviously didn’t fancy a vote on the subject. They obviously knew how strong feelings were on the issue,” said Mills .

In any event, it could never have become law, since it would have been illegal under EU rules and treaties – a fact that some Conservatives accept, but others stubbornly refuse to acknowledge.

Nevertheless, the months of rhetoric have left their impact. “As a result of the media campaign against Bulgarians we feel that the perception and attitude of some British people towards us has changed,” says Emil Rusanov. Rusanov, who runs a London-based Bulgarian newspaper, Budilnik, is a leading member of the Alliance Against Romanians and Bulgarians Discrimination, which has held a number of protests on Whitehall.

In Leeds, according to the Romanian Dental Society of the UK, a Romanian dentist, Dr Gina Giuliana Marinescu, was shouted at by a patient, who declared that Romanians should “work on the farms and not as dentists”.

The case of Marinescu, who is pregnant, now looking for another job and one of several thousand qualified Bulgarian and Romanian medical staff working in Britain, has prompted a complaint from the dental society to the General Dental Council.

Saying that they are filling gaps in the National Health Service, Romanian ambassador to Britain Ion Jinga said he recently received a letter from a Romanian doctor, who came in 2004 to work in a London hospital. Up to last year, the doctor said life was good: “Now, almost on a daily basis I am asked where I am originally from, and I have to face a racist attitude following my answer.

Negative comments
“Some people do not say anything, the majority of them express surprise only, some of them tell me that I do not look like a Romanian and some others start negative comments against us,” she told the ambassador.

Fewer than 50,000 Bulgarians have come to Britain – which they could do legally as long as they were self-employed – since Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2004. The numbers to come since January have not been measured, but they are small.

“The majority of them are working and/or studying and they contribute to this country – paying national insurance, taxes. They contribute more than they take out in benefits if you look at the statistics,” Rusanov tells The Irish Times.

Following months of dither, British prime minister David Cameron finally came out this week to declare that the government had done what it could, and could do no more – a remark he was happier to make once it became clear that few had actually come. In the face of some ridicule, he insisted the Immigration Bill had “left the Commons in the shape I wanted it” – though the public will have seen a party that is increasingly divided within itself.

The British debate about immigration, says London-based writer Rumyana Vakarelska, may be having the effect of encouraging Bulgarians who have lived in Britain for years – some going back to the days after the fall of the Berlin Wall – to head for the United States, Canada or Australia.

“Those are the countries where you will find the largest Bulgarian diasporas. The tragedy for us, however, is that people who go to such countries don’t come back. People who go to live elsewhere in Europe usually go back to Bulgaria,” she told The Irish Times.

For highly educated Bulgarians still living at home, Britain is increasingly seen as an unattractive destination: “They see it as not being the best country where they can fulfil their dreams,” she said.

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