Sold out! Flights and Buses Full as Romanians and Bulgarians Head for the UK
The Daily Mail
By Arthur Martin and John Stevens
Bulgarians and Romanians were last night preparing to travel to Britain as restrictions on working here are lifted tomorrow.
Almost all flights from Romania to England are full – even though one airline doubled the number to meet demand – with one-way tickets selling for up to ?3,000 each.
And all tickets for seats on buses leaving the Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 have been snapped up.
Wizz Air, the low cost airline that serves Eastern Europe, has doubled the number of flights it is offering. However, because of the demand, even these no-frills flights are being sold at around ?300 each.
At the central bus station in Sofia, a large poster showing Big Ben, a London bus and traditional red phone box advertise the bus routes to a new life here.
The poster reads: 'Regular routes to London, Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg and Greece' and offers a 5 per cent discount for booking online with agent, Balkan Horn.
All seats on two British Airways flights from Sofia to London Heathrow next Sunday and Monday – each carrying more than 152 passengers – have been sold.
When controls imposed in 2005 are lifted tomorrow, 29million from the two countries will gain the right to work in Britain.
While some of those coming here have expressed a desire to find ‘any job they can’, messages on internet forums show others making inquiries about benefits.
One user of a popular website wrote: ‘My husband and I want to have a child in the UK. We want to know what kind of benefits we can apply for. We are interested in receiving a council house.’
A mother described how she is hoping to move her family to the UK in the hope of claiming child tax credits – while a man spoke of his desire to be given a house.
A pregnant Romanian woman said: ‘I have read on this website I can get ?190 a week from the British government from the 25th week of pregnancy. Could somebody help me with the documents?’
Others wrote of their hopes to give birth in a British hospital.
A pregnant woman wrote: 'Can I give birth in the UK for free given that neither my husband nor I have the correct papers? Will we get British citizenship for our child?'
Aleksandra Dzhongova, who runs a legitimate employment agency in Sofia, said other firms had been set up with the specific intention of helping immigrants understand Britain's welfare system, rather than filling job vacancies.
One firm offered to help its Romanian clients avoid paying fines issued by HM Revenue & Customs.
A source at a firm helping Romanians find work in Britain told the Mail: 'There are already many using these social benefits without necessarily having an urgent need for them.
'I hope Romanians in the UK do not tell those from home that they are entitled to claim benefits because everyone will try to claim.
'If you ask Romanians why are they claiming benefits they say, "If it is allowed by the law, then why not?" They have seen the Brits claiming and other nationalities too, so they want to join the queue.'
The Daily Mail asked Priority Point, which gives Romanian migrants advice on settling in the UK, whether they could help a Romanian woman with two children with no legal documents to claim benefits while looking for a job as a housekeeper. A member of staff said they could, for a free.
The employee said: ‘There is no problem. But first she will need to apply for a national insurance number and then she can apply to receive money for the kids.’
When asked if the company will fill out the paper work, the employee replied: ‘Yes, we will do. For the documents for claiming child benefits you’ll be charged ?70.’
Travel agencies in Sofia as well as the Romanian capital of Bucharest reported huge demand for tickets. At the Central Bus Station in Sofia, travel agent Svetlanka Beaucheva said: ‘Everything is booked until Thursday, January 9. There are no seats left.’
Sixteen coaches carrying more than 50 passengers each will make the 1,500-mile journey by road to London from Sofia next month.
A manager at coach company Karats Eurolines said prices had gone up due to the high demand.
Another, at coach firm Balkan Horn, said: ‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’
Ion Prioteasa, president of Dolj county in the south of Romania, claimed that the numbers travelling from there to the UK will double to 70,000 next year.
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