Romanians, Bulgarians respond to UK immigration fears

With UK immigration laws softening next year and reactionary British tabloids fomenting concern, one Romanian newspaper provides an entertaining, if serious, response.

BUCHAREST, Romania — The scaremongering is all over British tabloids: Romanians and Bulgarians (Pickpockets! Scam artists! Scroungers!) flooding into the U.K. by the thousands once work restrictions are lifted next year.

Tired of the stereotypes, some are striking back.

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 glamorous 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 Prince Charles bought a house in Romania in 2005.

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

Romania and Bulgaria are the EU's poorest nations. But Romanians and Bulgarians see themselves as hardworking, 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 humor."

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 U.K. with my taxes and social security payments," he told Bulgarian media.

In Britain, statistics show that almost 1 million Eastern Europeans have come to the country during the past decade, and data from the 2011 census showed that Polish is now the second-most common tongue in the country. Britain's jingoistic tabloid press has been stoking fears of a second wave of migrants next year. The Daily Star spoke of a "migrants flood" and the Sun warned of 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, and most of them are law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

Some British commentators have scolded their compatriots for sowing fear.

Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times noted sardonically that "as our friends the Poles discovered, the British can tolerate anything except hardworking people who come over here to do the low-paid jobs we can't be bothered to do ourselves."

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