Wary of Roma, Europe cold-shoulders its new eastern workmates

Sun Dec 15, 2013 8:15am EST
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By Stephen Brown and Radu Marinas

BERLIN/BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Mitko keeps a tidy squat, a tartan blanket on the bed and his clothes stowed away. Lit by candles, heated by a gas canister and padlocked when he is out, it is the 39-year-old Roma's haven inside an old graffiti-covered ice factory in Berlin.

For many European Union politicians, Mitko and his neighbors in the squalid Eisfabrik are a warning of what will happen next year when Romania and Bulgaria get full access to the job market - and welfare systems - of Europe.

Germans, Brits, Danes, Austrians and Dutch are having second thoughts about a second wave of eastward EU enlargement in 2007, which made such poor countries members of the bloc but with a seven-year delay for access to some countries' job markets.

The tone of debate varies. David Cameron in Britain has fulminated against "vast population movements caused by huge disparities in income". One Danish politician has spoken of the need to "stress" Romanian beggars. German mayors have defended free movement in principle but say they are overwhelmed by poor migrants with no jobs and no health cover.

Across Europe the media are railing against "welfare tourism", and politicians, fearing this will boost the far right in May's European Parliament vote, are telling the European Commission to enforce the existing rules more strictly - or change them.

While Britain and Germany might welcome Bulgarian and Romanian professionals to fill staff shortages in hospitals and business, they do not want responsibility for these countries' poor - and especially not for the Roma.

"I don't get any money from the German state," said Dimitar "Mitko" Todorov, waving a cigarette. "If you apply, they just say: 'You don't have a registered address; you don't know the language'."

Leaving behind an ex-wife and three children, he came five years ago to work in construction but injured his back and now earns a few euros a day by begging or odd jobs like shoveling snow in winter. "It's a struggle to survive," said Mitko.   Continued...

Dimitar "Mitko" Todorov, a Roma from the Bulgarian city of Plevna, walks past a graffiti at a former ice factory that serves as his home in Berlin, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter