Thursday, 24 October 2013

Ruminations on Romania

"A Jersey politician is calling for a cap on the number of Romanians living in the island. Constable Phil Rondel says Jersey should follow the UK and introduce a limit and they shouldn't be allowed to move to Jersey unless they can speak English. There are currently 807 Romanians registered in Jersey. The controversial proposal is already facing criticism and it was a key focus of today's States meeting. Constable Rondel said: "If you come over here on a work permit from within the Commonwealth you have to speak our language and understand our law to get your work permit. Yet people can walk in, who are not in the EU even, and get a job here without a permit or anything." Constable Rondel knows there's a danger his views could be seen as xenophobic, or even racist, but he says his motive is about the island's economic well being. (CTV 23/10/2013)
 
The UK has followed a number of countries including America and Canada (to name two) in having a Citizenship test -  the Life in the UK Test is now required for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the UK or British citizenship. Part of the requirement of the course is to demonstrate sufficient competence in English. Legally, sufficient knowledge of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic can also be used to fulfil the language requirement.
 
There are also different rules for EU Citizens. As Wikipedia notes "Citizens of countries in the European Economic Area (other than British and Irish citizens) and Swiss citizens obtain permanent residence status automatically after five years' residence in the United Kingdom exercising Treaty rights." And Romania, of course, is set to join the EU in January 2014!
 
Whether Jersey should or could introduce a mandatory requirement for a test to demonstrate sufficient command of English (or perhaps Jerriais) is something which the UK has clearly taken a stand on. The need to understand statutory forms, and complete them is at the heart of our urban culture, and government needs some understanding of language simply to fill in those forms. Likewise, any use of the road system, requires a test to be taken, and some understanding of English.
 
But why single out Romania, when Romanians (as can be seen by comments on the CTV posting) can read and write very competent English?
 
Anna says: "I believe that we(Romanians) speak far better English than any other immigrant nation on this island!!!! We do not need any translators at hospitals or pharmacies and there just a few of us on social support."
 
Incidentally, at kindergarten in Romania, children receive initiation in foreign languages (typically English, French or German). In primary school, there are foreign languages learnt (usually French, English or German).  The elementary schools have 6 years in the first foreign language (usually English but may also be French, or German) and 4 years in the second foreign language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian or Portuguese). Many high schools provide classes with intensive study of a foreign language, such as English, French, German or Spanish; where a two-part examination (Grammar/Vocabulary and Speaking) is required for them.
 
It is very unlikely that their English will be poor!
 
And Andrea Ghisoi makes the point: "How about the Portuguese and Polish immigrants who have been living on the island for over 5 years and still don't manage to get by in English? Why aren't they mentioned in this discussion?"
 
Now I have had the odd Portuguese cleaner come to my home in the past, and they had very broken English - and sometimes even the needed to communicate via a third party on what tasks to do.  And yet, of course, a number of Portuguese people speak English very well indeed. We can't make generalisations about people coming from other countries; we need hard statistics, and we lack those on English language competence.
 
So what prompted Constable Rondel to pick on the Romanians? The Daily Express earlier this month commented that: "Thousands of Romanian immigrants in Paris are planning to come to Britain because they have heard they "can get social benefits" here, it emerged yesterday."
 
The Telegraph of 23 October 2013 picks up on this theme and printed a letter. It is worth quoting in full, as it is by a lady who is a surgeon, a qualification received in Britain after tough exams. Her career is accomplished; she has a family and a house in London. She is a successful professional, with an upper social status, but she writes:
 
 "It is increasingly more difficult to live as a Romanian citizen and Romanian professional in the UK. The UK is a country totally against racism and cultural blame. Unfortunately, this is what we are facing since January 2013 thanks to a part of the mass media and to some politicians. Romanians and Bulgarians are feeding mass media every day and this is not without consequences. I had never faced racism in this country until 2013. Now, almost on a daily basis I am asked where I am originally from, and I have to face a racist attitude following my answer. Some people do not say anything, the majority of them express a surprise only, some of them tell me that I do not look like a Romanian and some others start negative comments against us. I had to deal with this attitude from both patients and unfortunately senior colleagues at the work place. The blaming culture and racist attitude against us are damaging our lives and reputation. The vast majority of Romanians here are hard workers, honest, committed, paying taxes, contributing to the growth of this country, in the end of the day."
 
There is a lot of glib stereotyping of Romanians - for example "Romania and Bulgaria are two countries racked with corruption and organized crime" and Romanians  have "a natural propensity towards crime". It seems to be very much in the news, fuelled by the tabloid newspapers. The Mail, weighs in with a typical headline "The budget flight crime wave: Romanian pick pocketing gangs use low-cost airlines to target cities and fly home in time for tea" as well as telling us that "About 100 Romanians and Bulgarians a day are getting jobs in Britain, according to official figures. The number of people from the two EU countries has soared by more than a third over the past year, even though they are not yet  allowed to work freely in this country."
 
So why would they want to come to Jersey? Perhaps the St John Parish Magazine could furnish answer to their Constable? In August 2012, the "L'Étail du Nord" printed a report by Beaulieu students who had been in Oradea, Romania handing out Mustard Seed Jersey Christmas shoeboxes. Every year people in St John pack Christmas shoeboxes but "very few are privileged to see the end result and the gratitude of the recipients when they receive gifts from Jersey."
 
Here is a description of the conditions out in Romania:
 
"The team from Beaulieu was moved and stunned by some of what they saw. The girls saw families living in cramped living conditions without running water and where the only heating was a smokey wood-burning stove. They distributed bread and food parcels to families who could not afford to feed their children, and were amazed that they queued for two hours in the cold before the baker's van arrived. They saw the homeless living on the streets, sleeping near the central heating pipes for warmth as the temperatures plummeted a number of degrees below freezing. They handed out hot tea and sandwiches which would encourage the families and help them survive till morning."

If you lived in poverty in conditions like that, wouldn't you want to look for work elsewhere, and go somewhere better? I certainly would.
 
There's a passage in "Goodbye Mr Chips" which is also worth noting. Chip's wife Katherine suggests that they invite the children from the slum mission in London to Brookfield school. Previously, they had simply raised money and sent it off. But Katherine says "You can't satisfy your conscience by writing a check for a few guineas and keeping them at arm's length."
 
And there's a lesson to be learned there. Isn't it an irony that St John's is one of the Parishes at the heart of fund raising for Romania, and yet the Constable wants to keep the Romanians at arms length?

14 comments:

stelucia said...

You are wrong on many aspects.
1) Romania has already joined the European Union. What Romanians will acquire from January 1, 2014 are equal working rights with the rest of the EU citizens. Since joining EU in 2007, Romanians have been prevented.to take jobs within the EU unless they were self-employed. All work restriction will be removed from January 1st next year.
2) Romania is not That Poor. There are clusters of extreme poverty among Rromas (gypsies) of Romania but that description doesn't fit in any way the average Romanian way of life. Go to Bucharest, to Cluj (now the capital of Romania's burgeoning IT industry), to Pitesti where they make Dacia Duster and you will notice that the average Romanian is not dirty poor but has a decent quality of life. Many charities exaggerate poverty to raise funds and justify their own existence. And a gypsy slum is no way representative for the rest of Romania.
3) Romanians won't come en masse in UK. Germany has far more jobs and the life is better over there. Aldo, German is widely taught in Romania so I can bet that most Romanians will head to Germany, not UK.
And we Romanians will have the last laugh on the expense of all British and Jersey politicians predicting an invasion of savage, uneducated and low skill Romanians in the UK.

TonyTheProf said...

I'd be interested in your comments on
http://goo.gl/9ChCne
This appeal is to fund BREAD for pensioners and poor families in Oradea Romania – people too poor to buy for themselves – the need is greatest in the coldest months. Based on information from Romania we are confident that:
£6 will buy bread for a household for a week
£12 will buy bread for 2 households for a week
£30 will buy bread for 5 households for a week
£60 will buy bread for 10 households for a week
£120 will buy bread for 20 households for a week
£240 will buy bread for 40 households for a week ...

TonyTheProf said...

and this
http://www.nineoclock.ro/romania-the-country-with-the-highest-poverty-levels-in-the-eu/

"Despite good progress achieved by the government, Romania remains the country with the highest poverty levels in the European Union. More than 30 pc of the population lives on less than USD 5 per day. I would like to draw attention to those who live on so little, including the Roma population here in Romania and elsewhere in Europe."

James said...

Tony,

Economic inequality and poverty are not the same thing.

That there are sizeable pockets of wealth and a burgeoning middle class in Romania does not prevent there from being pockets of deep poverty as well - particularly given a run of inefficient and corrupt governments. You could say exactly the same of Jersey...

But the critical point made by stelucia remains. The EU rules are being relaxed as of 1 January; Romanians (who are full EU members) will join the Schengen agreement - which means no passport required to travel to every country in the EU bar four (Cyprus, Croatia, UK, Eire). If you can get work in Germany, why bother with the extra hassle of coming to Britain?

One is also inclined to wonder whether the so-say journalists at the Daily Express and Daily Heil got the terms Romanian and Roma mixed up at some point and haven't ever bothered to check the difference...

TonyTheProf said...

Where is the poverty that the shoebox appeal (my first link) is addressing? Surely that's Romanians not Roma.

And the second is a quote from World Bank (WB) Group President Jim Yong Kim on a visit to Romania, not the Tabloids.

TonyTheProf said...

James

A lot may depend on language. If I was looking elsewhere, and my English was good, my German poor, I might well go to an English speaking country.

stelucia said...

@Tony,
So what is your point? That Romania is poor that it cannot survive without your ShoeBox appeal???? Give me a break!
I loathe all these charities that exaggerate the poverty of a country to raise funds. Not to mention that many donated things are objects that normally would end discarded. I've seen that in 1990 when a lot of countries sent "charity donations" to Romania: expired medicines and food, writing machines (because computers were replacing them), used clothing and shoes, etc. They were confusing Romania with a garbage bin and probably were proud of how charitable they have been.
As for food banks for the poor I have seen plenty in Europe. In Milan a charity distributes food to needy people every day ? Does that mean that Milan is dirty poor??? It is the richest city in Italy!!! Same in Paris? Have heard of Restos du Coeur, the food charity founded by the late French comic Coluche? Does that mean that Paris is poor???
Do you really know what being poor is? Then try Kabul, you will see there real poverty. Not even the worst gypsy slum in Romania can be compared with the distressing poverty I've seen there.

TonyTheProf said...

It is not my shoebox appeal, it is a Jersey charity. The team that went out described (as I noted in my blog) cases of extreme poverty in Oradea, Romania. That's an eyewitness report.

The website - link given - says "It was noticed that in general the over-all standard of the boxes was excellent, with many donors clearly packing with love and thought."

Items suggested can be seen here
http://www.mustardseedjersey.co.uk/docs/Appeal%20letter%202013%20for%20website.htm

They are not discards, but I take your point.

My point (in this connection) is that parts of the country suffer from poverty which is not being alleviated well by government.

And yes, any of the refugee camps in the Middle East also probably have worst conditions.

TonyTheProf said...

Or are you saying that the eyewitnesses were making it up? I find that unlikely. This is a direct link to a particular place, not a giving at arms length charity.

And personally, I'd be glad if someone outside offered help to poor people in Jersey; it might act as a wakeup call to the politicians.

Roumain said...

I wonder if your poor in the UK are better off than our poor in Romania.

You definitely have a distorted image of what Romania might be. After all, it's not so important.

I find "humanitarian tourism" despicable. Actually nobody in Romania - I mean not even the poor - needs so badly your help items.

Invoking this kind of "anecdotal evidence" like the witnesses of people involved in "humanitarian tourism" as a proof of deep third world poverty in Romania is weird.
You don't ask the hunter about how many birds are in the trees: he will tend to grossly overestimate their number, in order to hunt.

Besides:there are between 380000 and one million homeless people in the UK against some 5-60000 in Romania.

Poverty is a complex term and it's not pertaining to "humanitarian tourists" to define it.

vali_nash said...

@ stelucia: You sound as if most of the charities exaggerate the poverty in order to raise more funds, and that most of the donations are garbage. That is not true and it is completely unfair to generalize like that.

James said...

Where is the poverty that the shoebox appeal (my first link) is addressing? Surely that's Romanians not Roma.

It could be both - Roma living in Romania (of whom there are well over 600,000). You'd have to ask Rose Helie. Although there are very few ethnic Germans in Romania, large parts of the country were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there are still plenty of indications of the influence. English is not generally the first language of choice (wife works with a sizeable Romanian community, this is what they tell her.)

And personally, I'd be glad if someone outside offered help to poor people in Jersey; it might act as a wakeup call to the politicians.

You are right, and it should. The trouble is that it wouldn't happen, because of the damage it would do to our carefully-cultivated image. Imagine the scene in CM Gorst's office: Bailhache barges in and snorts "The OECD reckon we're the 9th wealthiest place in the world, and we're letting a Romanian charity feed our poor? We'll never live it down with the Chinese! And it'll mean more interference from Westminster too".

The point about the conflation of Roma and Romanian is simply to point out that if lazy stereotypes dreamed up by newspaper editors are all we have to go on, the picture is bound to be misleading, and people like Phil Rondel are bound to say stupid things.

Nick Le Cornu said...

Well said stelucia. These are excellent points against patronising Liberals and Racists alike.

One must be blunt. Constable Rondel’s comments are simply xenophobic and racist. For that he should be condemned. Alas his remarks probably go down well in certain quarters of St John. Romanians are to be seen (in the fields) and not heard protesting their treatment.

For a cultural discussion of the relationship between Britain and Romanian have a look at:

“Britain and Romania: a short history of a troubled romance” http://tinyurl.com/pkl7znz

I would recommend another Open Democracy essay:

“Romanian and Bulgarian migration to Britain: facts behind the fear” http://tinyurl.com/kgje4rs

The author concludes as follows:

“Concerns over migration from Romania and Bulgaria reveal class and welfare issues.

The European Union has created a space of free mobility, thus a European market for labour, education and business has been created. The current controversy over migration from Romania and Bulgaria, however, illustrates that those who work, in particular the highly skilled, are rather welcomed whilst the poor and potential benefits claimants are not. The underlying suggestion is that the poor should stay put whilst only the highly skilled are welcome to migrate. However, EU law does not make class, income or skills a condition for enjoying the right of free moment and instead insists that this is a fundamental right to be enjoyed indiscriminately by everybody.

Thus, this controversy reveals three major problems:
(1) gross social inequalities across the EU which compels people to seek residence elsewhere,
(2) the lack of a European welfare model that would provide sufficient benefits to all EU citizens wherever they live and (3) the incomplete enforcement of minority and fundamental rights for Roma.”

TonyTheProf said...

My, this is a lively debate! I should perhaps point out that I do not in any way endorse the Mail or Express views - I only cite them to show that in the Tabloid press the story of immigration from Romania, and the denigration of its citizens (pickpockets etc) is widespread in the UK, and I suspect that is why Constable Rondel picked on Romanians rather than, say, Turks or Greeks or any other nationality.

I also wanted to show how the press stories by papers such as the Mail have very partisan and selective reporting, and so encourage a very toxic form of racism - that's why I cited the lady speaking to the Telegraph.

Prejudice is fueled by the Tabloids, often taken at face value by their readers, and sways public opinion in very dangerous ways.