Refugees say life begins in England

ROMANIAN GYPSY refugees, in the care of Kent social services, were blissfully unaware yesterday of the mounting public hysteria that their arrival has caused.

They would only say how pleased they were to be here, and how much they were looking forward to a bright, new future in Britain.

"Stefan", 33, who would not give his real name for fear of reprisals at home, was discovered in the back of a truck with his wife, three children and 10 other families at Dartford Container Terminal on 26 November. Since then they have been housed in a hotel near Gravesend, a decision that prompted an outcry, before being moved to a council family centre near Sittingbourne.

With them are some of the women and children from the group of 103 asylum seekers who were found at the same terminal last Thursday night.

"We are poor people, gypsies, and we heard that if we came to England there would be a better life for the gypsies," he said, in the chaotic surroundings of the centre where women were preparing dinner as children demanded attention.

Originally from near Bucharest, his group, 35 in total, had been in the Romanian town of Arad when they had found a lorry driver willing to transport them across Europe. By day the men had been working on a big building site, while at night the whole group had been sleeping on the local railway station.

"He saw we were poor people, and felt sorry for the children and said he would take us to England," said Stefan. The Romanian driver had even bought them all food with his own money, he said.

Stefan denied that he had paid anything to the driver or anyone else for the journey. Asked if any of the group had paid, he shrugged and said he did not know.

The trip had taken a week in the back of the cold truck, after which the driver had directed them into another lorry that was going to England by ferry. "I really had no idea where we were going or where we had been. We could have ended up in Yugoslavia for all I know.

"But then the police opened the back of the lorry and we were in England," said Stefan. "It is a miracle."

He said they had been found at 4am after officers had heard the children making a noise. "The police were very nice. They took all the babies from the truck nicely and gently," he said. "It is a big difference between here and Romania."

Harassment of gypsies there had got progressively worse since the fall of the Ceausescu regime, he said. Police would come through their houses, take men away and lock them up for three to four days at a time with no explanation.

Now, however, he thought the future would be better: "I believe I will now get a house, the children will go to school, I will get a job and I will be happy," he said.

And if he were to be sent back? "I had better hang myself," he said. "I am a young man and I am here looking forward to a happy life."

Stefan is one of the 1,500 asylum seekers and their families currently being looked after by Kent social services. The estimated cost for this year alone is about pounds 3.5m.

"The numbers are constantly rising and the problems that arise keep on changing and increasing," said a tired-looking Peter Brown, leader of the county council's asylum seekers team.

"Basically we need clearer indications from the Government over what they are going to do about this and when they are going to do it."

Certainly, some local residents are far from happy with the situation.

"I makes my blood boil, it really does," said one woman out walking her dog on the country park next to the centre. "We've only just got rid of the gypsies on this park and they were here for 14 years. And now we've got this lot."

Another woman seemed to think this might be a solution to the current problem: "Why don't they put them in tents on the park?" she asked.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

King's College, Cambridge: Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships October 2016

£20,100 (pre-award of doctorate) rising each year to a maximum of £25,869: Kin...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Back End

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: Online Lettings Negotiator

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'