Notes From the Margins…

Waiting for the Bulgarians

  • April 07, 2013
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Oh dear.   For months the tabloid press has been working itself and the British public into a frenzy of horror at the prospect of an invasion of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrant, and what a shameful spectacle it has been.

Never mind the xenophobic and racist depictions of both countries as sinkholes of poverty and degradation, teeming with criminal, parasitical and devious chancers with nothing better to do than plan how to spend a life on the dole in our ‘soft touch’ island.

Throughout this whole manufactured panic one could be forgiven for thinking that the entire population of Bulgaria and Romania was getting ready to pack their bags and head for Dover.   And now, research commissioned by the Government has found that Britain may not in fact be a prime destination for the migrant hordes after all.

According to a  report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESC),  Germany, Spain and Italy are the countries with the highest numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants at the moment.  As regards future migratory intentions in the two countries, the report concludes that

Survey evidence  suggests that the UK is not a strongly favoured location for those interested in migrating. There is little firm evidence to suggest that flows will therefore increase substantially once transitional controls are lifted.


It is not possible to predict the scale of migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK with any degree of certainty because of the lack of accurate data on current migration and because of the many factors which determine migration decisions and patterns.

The report also deals with the issue of ‘health tourism’ amongst Eastern European migrants in Britain.  In assessing migrants from the EU8 ‘accession’ countries who came to Britain after 2004, its authors note that

Research by Medicins du Monde (a London-based non-governmental organisation) found no  evidence of health tourism among more than 600 migrants who had accessed their services. These migrants had been living in the UK for an average of three years before seeking healthcare.

And also that

The limited published research available on the health of EU8 migrants indicates that they are generally healthy, because they tend to be young and in employment.

With regard to the impact of EU8 migration on housing, the report found that the majority of Eastern European migrants in Britain live in private rented accommodation or ‘tied’ accommodation provided by their employers, rather than in social housing.

So, in short, the Bulgarians and Romanians may not be coming after all, and those who do are likely to be young, fit, looking for work and paying with the money they make for the flats and houses they live in.   Just fancy.

And yet the Coalition – and the Labour Party – have fallen over themselves in an unseemly and really quite sordid scramble to turn the Bulgarian/Romanian catastrophe to their own advantage, by making keynote ‘get tough’ speeches on immigration, and promising new curbs and restrictions – the better  to take the grin off Nigel Farage’s face, or at least try and stop the flow of votes  in his direction.

And all this on the basis of absolutely no evidence at all, except for the usual sensationalist hypotheses offered by Migration Watch  – an organization for whom the immigration apocalypse is always just around the corner, even if it isn’t –    and a slew of wild front page stories from the yellow press.

In addition the Government has made itself look ridiculous through a shameful advertising campaign aimed at convincing potential migrants who may never even have intended to come here that the UK is in fact a pretty unpleasant country.

You can almost feel the disappointment in a Telegraph editorial today on the NIESC Report, which criticized ‘the general sense…that the number arriving will be well below the 50,000 per year predicted by MigrationWatch UK, and that there is really not that much to worry about’ as ‘dangerously complacent.’

Why is it dangerous not to take seriously inflated speculation that is not based on facts or evidence?  Because ‘ While the number of newcomers is indeed unknown, it is surely better to be over- rather than underprepared.’

Well yes.  It is sensible and desirable to take steps in advance to prepare for situations where immigration may affect public services, for example, in class sizes.   But these are not the kind of preparations that have been talked about in the grotesquely irrational response to the prospect of EU2 immigration that has gone on these last few months.

That response was motivated by domestic political considerations that had very little to do with a putative ‘tsunami’ of immigration, and much more to do with deflecting public attention away from the cuts in public services and the very real economic hardship that is increasingly being felt across wide swathes of the population.

Now ‘benefit scroungers’ have taken the place of the Bulgarians and Romanians – for the time being – but other immigrant threats will take their place.  The great Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavavy would have recognized this syndrome.  Years ago he described the mixture of panic and excitement of ancient Romans, mesmerised by the prospect of a barbarian invasion, and the disappointed crowds waiting to witness their arrival who go home

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come/   And some who have just returned from the border say  there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what”s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Indeed they were.  And the Bulgarians and Romanians also represented  ‘ a kind of solution’ to a political class that can offer its population nothing but decades of economic stagnation and falling living standards for all but the privileged few.

And now that they aren’t coming, perhaps we, like Cavavy’s Romans, should stop gathering in the Forum to listen to the likes of Sir Andrew Green, and stop blaming the immigrant ‘Other’ for problems that will not go away, even if no Bulgarian or Romanian ever sets foot in this country ever again.

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  1. Richard Carter

    7th Apr 2013 - 8:28 pm

    Spot on as usual, Matt, it’s been a very ugly spectacle to see all even the respectable parties – the “Liberal” Democrats and Labour too, to their everlasting shame – have been falling overthemselves in yelling “Me too, me too!” on this issue.

    And it’s essentially a side issue, but I do resent even respectable news sources – like the BBC in the Migration Watch report that you referenced – refer to blatant log-rollers like the afore-said Migration Watch as “think tanks.” I wish they’d recognise their nature and refer to such outfits as pressure groups, which is what they are. Calling them think tanks gives them a wholly spurious respectability, and people are more inclined to believe their inventions.

    • Matt

      7th Apr 2013 - 9:16 pm

      Yes I agree with you. Migration Watch has obtained its respectability because it plays the ‘numbers game’ (regardless of whether these numbers are evidence-based), so it’s seen as an independent, non-political organization with no axe to grind, when in fact it does a great deal of grinding.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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