February 13, 2013 by Nash Riggins
How many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to the UK next year?
This has become the biggest question in British politics, and the uncertainty of its answer is causing the Coalition government to become quite worried.
Indeed, halting what Theresa May dismissed as the “uncontrolled mass immigration” allowed by David Cameron’s predecessor turned out to be one of the Tories’ biggest promises in the run up to 2010. Mr Cameron’s party vowed to slash the country’s annual net immigration by over 60% before the next election, and has subsequently made steady progress in ensuring the UK has become a substantially harder place for foreign nationals to live and work.
Three years on, this xenophobic legislature has proven successful, reducing net immigration by over a quarter; however, the Coalition has now been left fretting that its misplaced antipathy could be completely undone from 2014. Cue unmitigated – and probably unwarranted – panic.
Next year, the quotas that allowed EU states to limit the number of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants entering their borders will expire – potentially allowing 29 million people the freedom to live and work in the UK. Tories like Theresa May are already scrambling to battle stations, and MPs are even considering running an expensive ad campaign in Romania that will seek to convince Europeans that life in the UK will be just as bad as it is there. However ridiculous, they might be right.
Suspicions have already been raised in Europe that the UK government isn’t necessarily afraid of a repeat of the Polish exodus that took place between 2004-2006, but rather a mass migration of Roma gypsies – Europe’s most maligned and persecuted minority group.
An estimated 7-8.5 million Roma live in Europe, where a fresh wave of persecution is undeniably rearing its ugly head. Local governments continent-wide have instigated numerous mass evictions of law-abiding Roma gypsies in the past several years, after which authorities effectively dump hundreds of thousands of these people into walled ghettos reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Oddly enough, this unmitigated oppression is most present in the supposed homelands of the Roma. Attacks on the gypsy community in Bulgaria and Romania are becoming increasingly common place, and far-right political parties are going so far as to pursue legislature that will obligate Roma women to be ‘sterilised’.
In the UK, attitudes towards the travelling community aren’t much better. Following the government’s 2011 mass eviction of Dale Farm – the UK’s largest permanent settlement of travelers – a subsequent YouGov poll found that two-thirds of the UK believed that local authorities were quite right to remove the 86 families from Dale Farm, even though they legally owned the land. For Romania’s most persecuted, life in the UK may regrettably prove little better than Bucharest where human rights are concerned; however, a little more oppression may be a small price to pay for a minimum wage is almost 25 times higher than that of Romania’s. Accordingly, who could blame a Roma family for wanting to try their luck in Britain?
Taking a step back, it may be pretty naive to assume that Britain is throwing a hissy fit just because it fears an influx of communities similar to that of Dale Farm. In truth, this government antipathy stretches beyond the gypsy community and wags a dismissive finger at the majority of the world.
According to more recent YouGov survey, 80% of the country backs the government’s proposed cap on immigration – with 69% wanting a push for zero net immigration. This general attitude, however appalling, is understandable. Years of immigration waves, high unemployment and recession have aggravated an ever-present sense of xenophobia beyond mere frustration, and members of the UK’s working class may now have reason to doubt their job security when Britain is forced to open its borders to Romanians. Yet under no circumstances should this worry be allowed to eclipse the UK’s commitment to human rights.
Above all else, evidence suggests that Britain’s distrust of foreigners stems from irrational anxieties over globalisation and cultural change. In fact, many governments across the world are experiencing this same ‘dilemma’ – that is to say, a panic over the fact that their ‘national language’ is no longer everyone’s first language, or that snow-white is no longer the most common skin colour. People who identify with these fears need to grow up and let go of the past.
Times change, and the racial make-up of a nation is bound to change with them. The UK’s unemployment rate has spiked at some of the nation’s lowest periods of immigration. There have been no credible economic arguments with regards to the benefits of closing Britain’s borders, save for a potential spike in unemployment – which is an age-old issue that transcends the immigration debate, and should consequently never be pegged as an excuse for oppression.
If UK nationals truly believe that an influx of Romanians will get them fired from their job, they should push Westminster to instigate community-wide programmes that make local people more employable – not encourage their government to make ridiculous laws that keep immigrants out. After all, everyone deserves an equal chance to pursue a better life, and what sort of sick son of a bitch wouldn’t encourage a law-abiding family of Roma gypsies to try their luck in the UK rather than be kicked into a barbed-wire ghetto and sterilised by their own government?
In truth, many Roma gypsies probably won’t even consider moving to Britain – after all, the cautionary tale of Dale Farm is anything but rare. Moreover, national polls amongst Romanians indicate that the majority of typical Romanian citizens want nothing to do with the UK, either. If anything, the Tories’ fear that London’s most-spoken language will soon be Romanian should be pegged as mere scare-mongering. That said, this episode has served to highlight a growing xenophobic attitude in Britain that has absolutely no place in a globalised community, and can no longer be ignored. Westminster owes it to the world to remind its people that, unless they’ve experienced state-sponsored barbarism at its absolute worst, they have absolutely no right to tell a minority group they don’t deserve a fresh start.
Yes, the UK should brace itself for a fresh crop of foreign nationals in 2014 who are hoping to make their lives better in Britain. Some will find success, and more still will end up leaving – but all deserve an equal opportunity to pursue happiness. Complaining won’t stop them from coming, and complaining probably won’t make them leave, either. Consequently, perhaps it’s time for us to stop worrying about how to scare immigrants away, and instead spend our time and resources strengthening British infrastructure in order to prepare for the inevitable.