'Don't Worry about an Invasion of Bulgarians - They're Already Here'
... or would rather go to Germany, ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov tells Melanie McDonagh
The Prime Minister may be thinking aloud about how to put Bulgarians and Romanians off coming to Britain when the last restrictions on them working here come to an end in December — David Cameron chaired a ministerial working group this week to find ways of deterring them — but as far as the Bulgarian Ambassador, Konstantin Dimitrov, is concerned, he needn't bother.
"Is there going to be an influx from Bulgaria?" he said. "No. Most of the people who sought jobs in Britain have already done so. I'm not going to mention anyone by name, but some politicians have been guilty of unenlightened propaganda."
So, he's not fingering the Prime Minister, then, nor the Mayor, who opined recently that immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria might end up sleeping on the streets. The ambassador is a former foreign minister; he doesn't get personal. But he's plainly irked by the notion that Bulgarians are would-be benefit scroungers. "In Ireland," he said pointedly, "they removed restrictions on working last year, and over the last six or seven months, 350 Bulgarians went there to seek employment."
So, not an influx. "There are," he said, "only about 53,000 Bulgarians here who have right of residence. Many are working as nurses, doctors, financiers and in construction. Frankly, the UK is not the most obvious destination for others. The climate and the difficulties you encounter coming here make them less likely to move to Britain. Bulgarians are more connected to Germany and Italy."
Did he know anyone who is going to move to Britain when the restrictions are lifted? "No", he said. "Instead people who might leave are thinking about whether they've got the linguistic skills and transferable qualifications. No one is focusing on this supposedly fantastic new access. We are just seven million people, after all. We have a big demographic problem; most of our population is old.
"The young welcome the chance to work, but you go where you are welcome, not where you are not welcome, where things are closed to you. A million people left Bulgaria in the decade after 1989, that is true. It's sad. We would wish to be attractive to the best and the brightest. But young people think globally. Many aim for banking. If they come here, it'll be as a result of market research on the jobs here."
So if there were an influx, it's already happened, and it sounds like London would be lucky to get what remains of it.
There are seasonal migrant workers from Bulgaria who work say, strawberry picking, but temporary workers aren't what we get worked up about. What about criminals?
Organised crime, including people-trafficking, is a problem in Bulgaria, and petty criminality is associated with the gipsies of the region, who come from Bulgaria as well as Romania.
"Two or three years ago," said the ambassador, "there were problems with petty criminality on the streets but thanks to co-operation with the authorities, the back of it has been broken. The Bulgarian criminal contingent doesn't feature on the recent blacklist of the top 12 countries involved here.
"We have always co-operated with the British authorities in cases of illegal conduct. Other Eastern European countries are another matter."
Plainly, there's irritation on the part of Bulgaria that Britain supported its membership of the EU but politicians are only now getting their heads round the implications of that decision in terms of free movement of labour. The negative reaction in Britain to the prospect of Bulgarians coming here has played very badly in Bulgaria.
"Unfortunately, the issue is at the top of the Bulgarian agenda. My compatriots do not deserve such headlines. It has bordered on xenophobia. Some of the comment is funny, some is defamatory."
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