For months, the British right, led by the Daily Mail, had moaned and screamed about the impending wave of immigrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania. These two countries, who recently saw restrictions on labour mobility and travel to the rest of the European Union lifted, were expected to empty out, with hordes of Easterners flooding into Britain to steal jobs and benefits. Much of the media circus surrounding the issue focused largely on Roma migrants. Many Roma, having already fled to the United Kingdom to escape persecution and find employment, ended up at the margins of British society.
Predictably, the British government and political right reacted not with compassion, but with repression. Eric Pickles, a Tory MP, communities and local government secretary and self-appointed anti-Gypsy czar, called Travellers a “blight” on society and is known for chasing people down in his own car. The Daily Mail, apoplectic, claimed that arriving Roma would spark riots due to their “anti-social” behaviour. This prejudice is only a part of a rising tide of anti-Roma hatred that has hit the mainstream throughout Europe.
Yet, on January 1, when restrictions were lifted, few Romanians and Bulgarians arrived. Perhaps driven away by Britain’s stagnant, austerity-ridden economy or by British racism, the incoming Eastern hordes turned out to be a handful of people, most of which had already secured employment in Britain.
Charlie Brooker summed it up best. Following Britain’s huge Christmas season storms, he said in his Weekly Wipe:
Look at this bleak existence. No utilities, squalid conditions, people lugging sacks around everywhere, and the only way to get about is on horseback. They’d be better off in Romania.
And so, it seems, the Romanians agree.