This month the Office for National Statistics published figures showing a 26% increase of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria working in the UK over the past three months. Despite these legal, newly registered Eastern Europeans paying tax, much of the British press have been unnerving the public in to believing eternal doom is to come, when – in January 2014 the EU labour market restrictions Romanians and Bulgarians currently face are lifted – giving them the right to live (“flood”), work (“beg”), and claim benefits (“abuse”) freely in the UK.
Both countries in question are subject to exclusively negative reports in the British media, but the irrational hysteria seems more focussed on Romania – with headlines proclaiming: “Time bomb: migrants to bring drug-resistant TB superbug to UK”, “Beds in sheds are a blight on this civilised country”, “Immigration Crisis Looms”, “Avoid London it’s full of Pakistanis, Romanians warn fellow migrants”.
So from this modest selection of available headlines Romanians are portrayed as dangerous, diseased, and racist – with the following narrative implying all Romanian migrants are criminally determined to abuse the UK. The editorial photos these types of reports favour are as provocative and misleading as the headlines: destitute rural villages, horse-drawn traps, Roma settlements, and homelessness. The press focus on a minority within a minority and present people with an obscured reality of the whole nation. There are words to describe this: abusive and racist – which is rich with irony when you think about it.
It is easy to pacify the press and imagine every individual has the capacity for freethinking, but proof this isn’t the case is an acute fear I harboured growing up convinced that Saddam Hussain was one minute away from blowing the world up – after seeing several front covers of the Daily Mail in the 90s. Sadly, things were not as we’d been led to believe. It probably explains why, Monica Madas, a London-based Romanian musician – encountered prejudice from her friend’s mother when she visited their home in Chichester. “I always thought Romanians were thieves and gypsies.” The mother said charmingly. (No possessions were reported missing after Monica had left the home, by the way).
Here’s a wonderful variety of commonly used language from these articles: swamp, fear, invade, loom, ghetto, flood, disaster, poverty and squalid – and this small selection of words was taken from the first line or two of the relevant reports. Carmen Campeanu, from the Romanian Cultural Centre London is also getting fed up with the scaremongering. “Of course we feel frustrated because of the prevailing negative discourse in the British media about Romanians ‘invading’ the UK in 2014 – and I wish I would see more media coverage about the positive aspects of [Romanian] migration, not just about the negative side,” Says Campeanu.
There is the perception too, albeit misconstrued – that Romanians will want to “flood” to the UK, or “swamp”, “invade”, or whatever – when they have the full EU free-movement rights. The actual order of destinations favoured by migrating Romanians is: Italy, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Portugal, Austria, France, and finally, brace yourselves: United Kingdom. Romania also, according to World Bank figures has a lower unemployment rate than the UK, 6.6 percent, and 7.7 percent respectively – while the European Union collectively stands at 11 percent. Not bad for a EU backwater, is it?
Education in Romania has prospered since the end of Ceaușeacu’s communist regime in 1989, and currently there are 40 Romanian students enrolled at Harvard, 32 at Columbia, 24 at Stanford, and 32 at MIT. The UK is now the first choice of study for bright young Romanians attending universities abroad. Livia Popa, a Romanian commercial finance manager living in London, says, “The saddest thing is that the countries we immigrate to, have the most to gain: they get smart, young individuals already well educated and eager to work hard. Romania, our native county, supported all the cost of us growing up: mainly free education and free health care.”
I was in Romania this summer and a group of us stayed at a popular seaside town named Vama Veche (Old Boarder). It is inhabited throughout summer by well-educated young Romanians partying through the night over music and campfires – drinking at the many bars till sunrise. It is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, but no utopia though, crime does exist there – and many people have things stolen from their tents during the summers at Vama Veche. I had money stolen from my tent the first night I stayed there a few years ago. I also had things stolen from my tent at V Festival 2003, in Staffordshire. Criminals, apparently – are everywhere.
These young prosperous students moving to the UK don’t need stigmatising before arrival by a repugnant press. There needs to be a two-way narrative, otherwise we’re giving ourselves in to barefaced racism and xenophobia. The prevailing narrative is racism in a horrible form: political, malicious, and unembarrassed. It is worse than how the press like to portray Romanians, I guess.