Thousands Queue For New Life In UK
A stampede for passports to a new life in Britain began just minutes after our borders were thrown open to Bulgaria and Romania. The two impoverished eastern European nations were welcomed into the EU when their applications were rubberstamped in Brussels. They do not join officially until January 1 next year.
But that did not stop wild celebrations in both countries as prospective immigrants relished the prospect of free movement within the EU – with Britain a prime destination.
Huge queues formed outside police stations in Romania, where staff issue the pictures needed for passport applications.
Few had bothered to obtain passports in the past. Many are now desperate to get their hands on the £25 travel document which, from January 1, will be a ticket to a new life.
Some began queuing at midnight, hours before Brussels made the announcement.
Oprea Ovidiu, 20, a student heading for Britain, said: ‘It’s great news, I am getting my passport now we know for sure and will be gone by next year.’
The Home Office attempted to calm public anxiety that Britain will be unable to cope with a new wave of migration by promising that workers from the two countries would be given only ‘gradual access’ to our economy.
Mr Blair told his final Labour Party conference as leader that, without ‘rules that allow us some control over who comes in and who comes out, migrants will be greeted with fear rather than a welcome’.
As a result, a quota is likely to be set on the number of work permits handed out to work in jobs such as agriculture.
But it quickly emerged Ministers have no power to stop workers travelling here anyway, as all EU citizens have the right of free movement.
They also cannot stop migrants moving to Britain as self-employed workers. Huge numbers are expected to claim to have their own work.
Of the 600,000 who have flooded in from the eight eastern European countries which joined the EU in May 1, 2004, 150,000 claim to be
self-employed. A similar number could travel here from the two latest countries to join, experts have predicted.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said: ‘Any restrictions will be difficult to enforce as Romanians and Bulgarians will be free to enter Britain, and to work here as self-employed.’
Britain was one of only three countries not to impose restrictions in 2004, allowing free access to citizens of Poland and seven other former eastern bloc countries.
Other EU countries are yet to announce how they will respond to the latest expansion.
The Home Office, which had been dropping heavy hints it would not repeat its 2004 open-door migration policy for new members of the EU, tried to calm anxieties.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: ‘There are lots of businesses that will tell you that they could not survive now without the hard work and contribution from people from that part of the world.
‘But we think circumstances are different this time round and we think that is why the policy has got to be different this time. Here, we think, actually there is a case for only very gradual access.’
But he admitted not knowing how the controls will work, and said he would not be in a position to tell Parliament for another six weeks.
This is despite the Government having had seven years to prepare for the expansion.
The EU approved Bulgaria and Romania’s membership applications despite continuing concerns over organised crime, people smuggling, high-level corruption and food safety.
But, instead of delaying membership on the countries, which have a combined population of 30million, the EU chose to impose conditions on them instead.
Some of their food products will be banned from the internal EU market. They will also face regular six-monthly checks that they are tackling corruption and criminal gangs.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the Government predicted a maximum of 13,000 entrants per year with the last intake in 2004.
Six hundred thousand have since arrived.
‘This has not only placed great strain on our housing and public service infrastructure – it has also resulted in thousands of immigrants entering the country only to fall into a life of squalor,’ he said.
In Bulgaria, prime minister Sergey Stanishev declared: ‘This is the genuine and final fall of the Berlin Wall for Bulgaria.’
In Romania president Traian Basescu was looking forward to New Year’s Eve. ‘In that night we will go into the New Year with the thought that we have prosperity within our sights, but we don’t have it yet.’