Recent discussions about the possible creation of quotas for EU migrants in the UK are a not so veiled code for finding legal mechanisms to effectively discriminate against a perceived ‘lower class’ of EU citizens: generally eastern European citizens and Roma in particular. Here, Anca Pusca argues that the UK is likely to fare much better by working with local support groups to insure migrants are aware of their rights and opportunities.
Roma migrants coming to the UK from central and east European countries – Romania and Bulgaria in particular, are not unlike other temporary economic migrants: they are generally looking for short-term opportunities that will allow them to elevate their status at home to a level of minimum sustainability and ideally create a base (new business, ongoing investments) for further income generation. Unlike other economic migrants from the EU however, Roma are likely to be significantly poorer, less skilled at higher-level jobs and desperate enough that they will go to extremes to secure even a meager income. They are more likely to travel in groups and rely on existing networks of migrants whenever possible and, because of language limitations, much more vulnerable to abuses by other Roma ‘handlers’.
Rings of traffickers who use children and women to beg and steal are not uncommon and as countries like Italy, Spain and France are increasingly cracking down on them, they are looking for new markets. The UK should be less afraid of small groups of Roma coming to the UK independently to look for opportunities, and more conscious of the long-term damage that can be done by more established and powerful Roma handlers and trafficking rings. While the knee jerk reaction to Roma migration in general tends to be a violently negative one, this need not be the case: in fact, receiving countries are likely to fare much better by working with local support groups to insure migrants are aware of their rights and opportunities, and arrive with a better idea of where, when and how those opportunities can be secured. This significantly decreases the appeal of working with ‘handlers’, and is thus likely to significantly decrease feared instances of ‘criminality’, while also keeping desperate migrants off the streets. A better sense of available opportunities would allow temporary migrants to only come when those opportunities are available and avoid long periods of insecurity and living in the streets.
The UK government would be smarter to take a more pro-active role at understanding not just the needs of these groups, but also their skills and how they are best likely to be put to use: the chances of a longer-term or permanent migration are only increased by failing to create opportunities that allow for seasonal migration or shorter term lucrative contracts. Studies show over and over again that, given the choice, many economic migrants would rather live in their home countries if they had a chance for a better life. Roma migrants often leave families behind in a desperate attempt to better provide for them.
By working with support groups both within the UK as well as the originating countries, one can easily determine the formal and informal sectors that Roma migrants are most suited to contribute to and help facilitate shorter-term employment opportunities. Italy and Spain have been particularly successful at providing short-term seasonal work, mainly in the agricultural realm. This model can be extended for Roma migrants by taking into account language limitations and finding more creative ways to get around them: such as the use of social media or voice and video recordings.
Unlike Italy and Spain, countries that have long attracted economic migrants, including Roma migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, the UK is generally perceived as less appealing a destination and place to settle for a number of reasons: the culture is often perceived as less welcoming, the language – different regional variations – is seen as a significant barrier, the fickleness of the weather makes spending long periods of time outside difficult, and perhaps more importantly, the high cost of living means that migrants are less likely to be able to save significant amounts to send back home. The UK should thus have fewer reasons to fear the establishment of semi-permanent Roma camps as we have seen in France, Spain and Italy – the weather and stricter council permits law will simply make that impossible. By simply hiring Roma speaking consultants or working with established Roma support groups, police forces, such as the London police, should also be better able to address instances of vagrancy and begging on the street.
Recent discussions about the possible creation of quotas for EU migrants in the UK are a not so veiled code for finding legal mechanisms to effectively discriminate against a perceived ‘lower class’ of EU citizens: generally eastern European citizens and Roma in particular. One should not forget however that the ethos behind the creation of the EU is not a purely economic one – we like it as long as we only stand to benefit from it, but also an ethical one – we will willingly tie ourselves to others in order to decrease the likelihood of conflict. The increasingly violent attitude against certain economic migrants such as Roma is a form of conflict, which, if continued, will only generate increased instability and resentment through the EU. The idea that the UK can somehow return to its former ‘insular’ self by de-coupling itself from aspects of the EU that it does not like – such as migration of certain EU citizens – is simply an illusion: the economic problems in the UK will certainly not be solved by allowing less EU migrants to come in.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit: Arian Selmani