Bulgaria responds to ‘flood of migration to UK’ hysteria

Written by on February 1, 2013 in Bulgaria, Europe, News - No comments

Bulgarian leaders have responded to the hysteria being whipped up in some British publications and by the UKIP about a supposed “flood” of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK when labour market restrictions are lifted at the end of 2013.

Some UK newspapers and the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, recently have whipped themselves into a giddy lather over claims that hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians will descend on Britain in 2014.

The UKIP apparently hopes that its paroxysms of emotion will help its electoral chances in European Parliament elections in 2014 while British newspapers are stoking fears based on thumb-suck guesstimates. In turn, the “issue” having been pushed on to the agenda, figures in the UK’s Conservative Party have started to respond – probably worried by the risk of the UIKP drawing away votes. London mayor Boris Johnson is among the latest to express concern about what currently remains, in reality, an imaginary Balkan Armada.

Bulgaria has sought to underline two messages; the first, that the universal lifting in all EU countries of labour market restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians is part of a long-agreed schedule that was part of the process of the two countries’ accession to the bloc; and second, that the dire predictions of a “flood” of migrants have no foundation in prior experience.

According to a report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said on January 31 2013 that he was inclined to believe that sentiment in the UK against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants was because of tensions in the UK caused by the state of the local economy, unemployment there and UK domestic policy discourse in general.

In a Foreign Ministry statement the same day, Mladenov said that the type of speech being used in the campaign in the UK against a possible “flood of Bulgarians and Romanians” after January 1 2014 “complies neither with the values nor the principles of the EU”.

This is especially valid for a country that is a leader in all international formats for the defence of human rights, Mladenov told journalists in Brussels, according to the Foreign Ministry statement.

There is no danger of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens “flooding” the UK after January 1 next year, he said, highlighting the example of Ireland, where after the local labour market was opened to Bulgarian citizens, the “flow” there increased by only 930 people.

As regards the requirements for restrictions on EU labour market access on Bulgarians and Romanians to be removed next year, Mladenov said that this issue did not only affect the UK but represented the end of the transitional period agreed during the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. “On this issue, there is no stepping back or stepping away from obligations under EU law,” he said. If an EU country wants to review its social welfare system if it is afraid that it could be misused, it may do so, but not in a way that would be discriminatory, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister said.

Bulgaria’s Labour and Social Policy Minister Totyu Mladenov was quoted by local media as saying that he would raise the issue of the statements in the UK with EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Lazslo Andor at a meeting of EU labour ministers next week.

The British ambassador in Sofia, Jonathan Allen, told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on January 25 2013 that the UK did not actually fear a mass migration towards it at the end of this year, although he did not deny that some political parties did.

In a February 1 interview with bTV, UK embassy deputy head of mission Catherine Barber said that there would be no discrimination in the UK against Bulgarians and Romanians from January 1 2014 when labour restrictions are lifted.

Barber said that the UK would meet its European obligations and Bulgarians and Romanians would be treated no differently from citizens of other EU member states. UK prime minister David Cameron and home secretary Theresa May had said nothing to indicate that there would be restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians, she said.

Barber said that there were concerns in British society about the misuse of social benefits and for that reason, the UK was working to prevent such abuses.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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About the Author

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015).