Monday, March 11, 2013

Romanian and Bulgarian migration into Germany: 'They come to look for a better life. But someone must pay for that'

The mayor of the German city of Duisburg sparked nationwide soul-searching when he announced that his city could not cope with the influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants. But, as Harriet Alexander found out, most Germans blame not the new arrivals, but the EU.

Rolf Karling drives his van laden with bread into the car park every evening. Within minutes it is empty – the loaves seized by hundreds of grappling hands, stuffed into hungry mouths.

But this is not a war zone, it is a high-rise housing estate in northern Germany. And the people he feeds are Romanian migrants who have flocked to the north western city of Duisburg in their thousands, but are without work, unable to feed their families, and crammed into tiny, crumbling apartments.

"They have created a Romanian refugee camp right here in the centre of the city," said Mr Karling, whose charity hands out food to the needy. "They call this place a 'Problemhaus'. But it's not a Problemhaus – it's a ticking time bomb."

German cities have seen a six-fold increase in migration from Bulgaria and Romania since the two countries joined the EU in 2007. Last week Germany once again successfully pressured the EU to delay a decision on allowing both countries into the Schengen passport-free zone, responding to fears over the effects of flinging open borders to countries known for high levels of corruption and organised crime.

"Does freedom of movement mean we have to assume that people from all over Europe who believe that they can live better on welfare in Germany than they can in their own countries will come to Germany?" said Hans-Peter Friedrich, German interior minister. "This danger cannot be allowed to come true."

Germany is currently home to around 249,000 migrants from both countries - double the number officially in the UK. And the situation confronting Chancellor Angela Merkel gives something of a foretaste of what could possibly happen in Britain.

At the end of this year, a temporary ban on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens coming to the EU to seek work will expire. When the EU's two poorest nations joined in 2007, they could visit the UK and be contracted for highly-skilled jobs, work self-employed, or labour where there was a shortage of British manpower, but not – unlike other EU citizens – come merely to look for work.

At the moment Britain is officially home to 93,000 Romanians and 42,000 Bulgarians, who are entitled to housing benefits, child support and council tax credits. They cannot claim unemployment allowances unless they have been in employment in the UK for 12 months.

Yet from next January they will be entitled to come without a job - abandoning Bucharest or Sofia, where the average net monthly pay is £340 and £283 respectively, in favour of the UK – where the average worker takes home £1442 a month. The same will apply in Germany.

It is a chain of events that is sparking a war of words between Brussels – which insists that the EU's rules must be respected – and the UK and Germany, which are deeply concerned about the impact of unrestricted migration from the duo of deprived nations.

Many countries are also scrabbling to find ways to rethink their welfare system to stop an influx of "benefits tourists". And it is worrying Whitehall. On Wednesday Nick Clegg chaired a meeting to examine a wide-ranging plan to deter EU migrants from coming to Britain, and to discuss how British benefits could be tightened without breaching EU law.

Yet in Germany, the impact is already being felt. The country was a natural choice for Romanians and Bulgarians seeking a better life. It has had the same restrictions on working as the UK, but is geographically closer, economically stronger, and has the added bonus of a vast Turkish community – meaning that Bulgarians, with their very similar language, can feel at home.

For Turgut Ezcan, however, the influx has not been welcome. "I'm moving back to Turkey," he said, as he showed The Sunday Telegraph around the Duisburg district of Hochfeld – an area previously dominated by Turks, but now home to the city's 4,000 Bulgarians.

It is a socially deprived neighbourhood of grim Soviet-style housing blocks, its alleys littered with rubbish thrown out of the windows by their residents. Gangs of men in leather jackets loiter on the streets, as Mr Ezcan, 41 – who speaks seven languages – translated snippets of their conversations.

"Out of 1,000 Bulgarian people, maybe 20 will be working," he said. "The Turkish caf├ęs are empty during the daytime as we have jobs; the Bulgarian ones are full. Turks have been here for fifty years and are integrated, speaking German. But this is different."

He points out a shiny BMW X6, and whispers that the owner is the local pimp, bringing girls from Bulgaria for prostitution. A large silver Mercedes cuts across our path. The cocaine dealer, he nods.

"I've lived here for 15 years, but it is really going downhill. The streets are untidy, there is lots of noise at night, and you can't leave your bike outside as it'll get stolen.

"I earn €2,300 a month as a lorry driver. But the Bulgarians tell my boss they will do my job for €1,000 a month – and they don't need visas, unlike me. Turkey is booming now, so it is time to go home."

The sudden arrival has left the Hochfeld International Centre struggling to cope. For over 25 years Karoline Robins has helped new arrivals to the area – translating for the first wave of Turks and then Arabs, then the refugees from the former USSR, and now the Eastern Europeans.

"But it's very difficult at the moment, and we are run off our feet," she said. "They are only looking for a better life for their families – but the existing cultural programmes weren't really suitable for them."

Dr Michael Willhardt, who runs a PR agency, is one of the few native Germans to remain in the district. "I've lived here all my life, and have always tried to keep the area in good shape, attract young professionals, and make it a pleasant place to be," he said. "We feel totally abandoned by the government, who do nothing to support these people and leave us in this state," he said. "If you invite in guests, you have to have someone at the welcome desk."

Inside Duisburg's ornate 1870s town hall – one of the few buildings to survive the Second World War bombing that wiped out 80 per cent of this industrial town – the local politicians agree that more must be done.

The town of 490,000 has a traditionally large immigrant population – Turks were invited to come in the 1960s to work in the steel and coal factories – but has since suffered from a steep decline. Unemployment is 12.8 per cent (compared to 6.8 per cent nationally), one of the highest levels in the country.

"They come here because it's a cheap place to live, and there are lots of empty houses," said Leyla Ozmal, the council's representative for Bulgarian and Romanian integration. "But they are exploited by landlords and forced into ghettos. We want laws to prevent this overcrowding.

"And we also need money from Berlin and Brussels to help fund their health care, education and basic needs. Some other cities in Germany look at us and think we are scandalising the issue – but we are not. We simply recognise the problem and say that something urgently needs to be done."

The city has set up a series of remedial classes for Bulgarian and Romanian children, teaching them German, basic literacy and maths so that they can eventually enter mainstream education. But since 2007, these classes have cost the city €12 million.

"Brussels and Berlin have their heads in the sand," she said. "We are one of the few cities to face up to the scale of the problem. They are quite entitled to be here, but we must be able to pay for it."

Across the Rhine, however, is another story. In the district of Rheinhausen – where the "Problemhaus" is located – the German residents are worried.

Berbel Kohla, 47, who lives opposite the teeming building, no longer leaves her Mercedes outside her home for fear it will be torched. The balconies of the seven-storey block – where 400 people are crammed into 46 flats – are packed with carpets, mattresses, childrens' toys and a collection of car hubcaps. Smashed windows are patched up with splintering chipboard. Gaggles of street-wise children run rings around rubbish and overturned shopping trolleys.

"The problem is that there is no work for them," said Hans-Ludwig Ziegun, 65, a pharmacist who lives opposite. "They come from real poverty and just don't understand how things work here. The noise is incredible."

Their attitude does not surprise Rolf Karling, the social worker.

"Those idiots in Brussels had absolutely no idea what they were doing," he said. "They wanted Romania and Bulgaria to be part of the EU because they were scared Russia might get its claws into them – but they never thought it through.

"Now we are faced with this. And it's going to get worse – two, three, four million will come. You open the floodgates from a very poor country to very rich ones. Wouldn't you move?"


Ed Miliband: It is not prejudiced to worry about immigration

Ed Miliband has said it is "not wrong or prejudiced" to worry about immigration.  The Labour leader said the party would stick to its promises to introduce maximum controls on new countries joining the European Union, and commitments to train workers already here so they have "a fighting chance of filling the vacancies that exist".

Earlier this week, Mr Miliband said his party had got it wrong on immigration when it was in power.

Writing in the Sun, he said: "Britain is richer, stronger, better as a country because we have welcomed people from across the world.

"Because of families who have come here and raised their children here, we have entrepreneurs like Levi Roots and Theo Paphitis.

He added: "But people have always worried about the impact of immigration, and particularly over the last 20 years or so. The pace of change has been fast.

"People have seen rapid change in their streets and neighbourhoods, with new cultures and new ways of life.

"In low-paid parts of our economy, such as catering and farming, people's wages have been put under pressure.

"It is not wrong or prejudiced to worry about immigration.

"It is understandable. The Labour Party I lead will listen to people's worries and we will talk about immigration, its benefits and the pressures it creates."


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