independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

We're not scroungers, say Romanians

Claudiu Pandaru, editor in chief of the Gandul daily online newspaper, says Romanians are being mocked. (AP)

Romanians are hitting back at what they see as scaremongering by British tabloids warning of thousands of pickpockets and scroungers flooding into the UK once work restrictions are lifted next year.

One Romanian newspaper is running ads questioning why anyone in their right mind would head for an island with bad weather and worse food, when they could stay in a country where "half the women look like Kate, the other half like her sister" - a quip about the Middleton sisters who are popular in the Romanian press.

"Our draft beer is cheaper than your bottled water," boasts a second ad in online Gandul, while another notes that the Prince of Wales bought a house in Romania in 2005.

Behind the tongue-in-cheek campaign is a serious message for Britain.

Romanians and Bulgarians see themselves as hard-working, skilled employees with excellent English who already contribute to Britain's economy. They say that reports they will bleed dry the welfare system once EU restrictions are lifted are both exaggerated and offensive.

"We are mocked, denigrated and made to feel like third-class citizens," said Gandul editorial director Claudiu Pandaru. "This is a humorous, good-mannered response. We want to show the British that we have two important reserves: intelligence and humour."

Bulgarian construction worker Dimitar Dimitrov, who has lived and worked in London since 2010, feels insulted. "I am a European citizen, like thousands of my compatriots here, and I don't understand why we are discriminated against. I am working probably harder than every single citizen of Her Majesty, and contributing to the economy in the UK with my taxes and social security payments," he told Bulgarian media.

In the UK, statistics show that almost one million Eastern Europeans have come to Britain over the past decade, and data from the 2011 census showed that Polish is now the second-most common language in the country. Romania and Bulgaria are the EU's poorest nations.

The British tabloids have spoken of a "migrants flood" and a "border alert." For its part, the British government has responded to such fears by saying it is considering "options" to deter a potentially huge influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. Ideas include ads explaining that new immigrants could face restrictions on what welfare benefits they can claim, or be deported if they fail to get a job.

Romanians acknowledge that some of their citizens have given the country a bad with name with ATM scams, begging and pickpocketing. But they insist these cases are a minority, with most of their citizens law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

Press Association

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