Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Truth of the Roma Debate

The ending of immigration restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK has, unfortunately, revealed the dark underbelly of the immigration debate in this country. Predictable articles claiming a "surge" of migrants are coming to the UK have produced a predictable response from the outraged, the angry and the plain scared.
In my part of London (East Ham), the Romanians and Bulgarians have been here for a while - there are two Romanian food shops within walking distance and the large men in black leather jackets driving old German cars are unmistakeable as are the groups of men inside and outside the betting shops in East Ham High Street.

The truth is much more complex - many of those already here or on the way here are educated, skilled, professionals seeking only work and the opportunity to build a better life. Many will undercut the British workers in terms of wages required and hours worked and that strikes a chord.

Yet the Romanians and Bulgarians are often portrayed as louts, uncivilised scroungers interested only in milking Britain's benefit system for free accommodation while getting involved in petty criminality and acting without a shred of respect or consideration for neighbours and the rest of the community. There may be some like that but I've never seen any in my part of the world.

The other side of the equation (particularly for the Roma) is or are the dreadful conditions they face in central and eastern Europe. In Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and elsewhere the Roma have, since the fall of Communism, been subjected to systematic persecution and apartheid. They are forced to live in unsanitary ghettos because, frankly, their Governments don't want them around and palming them off to Germany or Britain seems .a good way to get rid of a problem.

The Roma themselves are victims, forced to move from one place to the next. Britain is just the next place to go yet it seems they are not to be welcome here either. The genocide committed on the Roma by the Nazis is much less well known than the Holocaust but was no less savage yet itself was the latest of a series of pogroms these people have endured over the centuries.

So is there an answer? There is a justifiable concern about the capacity of resources to dal with more immigration - schools and health services are already under huge pressure (not helped by Government spending cuts) and it will be tough in some areas. There is the greater cultural problem - the Roma are perceived as "not like us" in a way the Poles for example aren't. The idea of Roma families moving en masse into suburban and rural communities is creating near apoplexy among the Mail reading and UKIP voting fraternity but the vast majority of Roma just want to do what we all want - to work hard, build a life and do the best for their families.

I argued on here before that so much of our life and politics stems from the events of late 1989 - this is another example.

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