‘We don’t judge the UK according to hooligans’: Romanians feel misrepresented by British media

A Romanian documentary team has come to find out whether the right-wing press is right about immigration

When 54-year-old George Betianu first arrived in London from Bucharest in 1991 he had just $50 (£30) in his pocket. Now the former Olympic boxer has a business empire with a turnover of £9 million employing 700 people, most of whom are Britons.

“I love it here, it’s like paradise,” the Romanian says. “I pay my taxes and never applied for any benefits. It’s a good life if you work hard.”

His is the sort of success story that Romanians feel has not been told in the hysteria about this year’s lifting of EU restrictions for workers from Romania and Bulgaria. Journalists from the country’s oldest newspaper, Adevarul, were so incensed by the gap between reporting and reality that last week they were in Britain to produce a documentary. Called The Truth About Romanians in the UK, it will be broadcast next month.

The Independent followed them as they pieced together a reality for Romanians in Britain that has been left untold in much of the UK media.

Mr Betianu’s company, Riverside Group London, began as a minicab firm. Now he runs ambulances, a property empire, a tourism agency and a factory making Transylvanian delicacies from British meat. At the wheel of his pristine black Audi, he proudly shows off London, the city where he made his fortune. He pauses to point out the landmarks, learnt by heart: “Charlie Chaplin used to drink here… The Sultan of Brunei stays there... That one’s Mick Jagger’s house…  The UK’s first heart transplant happened there.”

Marie Parsons, his operations manager, says she believes Romanians make better bosses, after working with Mr Betianu. “I wouldn’t like to work for an English person now,” she says. “If we have an emergency or a family issue, it’s no problem. We all work together as a family. I started six years ago doing admin and I’ve worked my way up.”

Articles in the right-wing press have painted a very different picture, often giving the impression that the majority are coming to Britain to steal or take benefits.

George Betianu is a successful Romanian businessman living in London and runs his own minicab firm George Betianu is a successful Romanian businessman living in London and runs his own minicab firm (Teri Pengilley/The Independent) Elena Dumitru, a member of the Adevarul team, says Britain’s hysteria about Romanian migrants is a source of consternation. “It’s a pretty hot debate back home; people talk a lot about Romanian immigrants living in the UK. We aren’t talking about people leaving, we were talking about the Brits having a problem,” she says.

“There’s a public perception that we’re being attacked. People feel there are quite a few cheap shots. In the tabloid press there are only negative articles about Romanians but we know people who have good jobs in finance and IT.”

Felicia Buruiana, 37, a doctor working in Oxford, has lived in the UK since 2005. Speaking at the Romanian embassy in Kensington, she describes the change when patients discover where she is from. “I feel very comfortable in society here”, she says. “The xenophobic reactions from patients came as they got to know what the mass media were writing about.

“Every country has a part of the population and people they’re proud of and a small segment of people you’re not proud of. It’s very unfair to judge the whole population on that small segment. We don’t judge the UK according to the hooligans or the ones going to Spain and getting drunk.”

Of course, a picture of universal success among Romanian migrants would be misleading. An afternoon meeting in north-west London with Sergeant Bryan Wappat also tells a very different story to the success of millionaires like Mr Betianu. Sgt Wappat runs a Metropolitan Police operation targeting migrants working illegally in the area.

His team of six Met and two Romanian officers patrol Cricklewood Broadway, where migrant workers try to find unofficial work. “We give them contact numbers for job centres and help them get National Insurance numbers. We want to help prevent them getting taken advantage of, which is what’s happening now,” Sgt Wappat explains.

“A lot of Romanians feel that we’re stopping them from getting work, but that’s not the case. The building sites they’re working on are not paying them properly and don’t have good health and safety.”

The area is a hot spot for theft, shoplifting and burglary, an issue which Sergeant Wappat believes is born out of desperation. “I believe that in desperation, when people are homeless and have no food and in danger of death, people will commit crime.” The conditions many are living in are extremely poor. Sgt Wappat says: “Quite recently we worked on a small shanty town with seven Romanian nationals where living conditions were quite shocking. We managed to help them get repatriated.”

Some of the interviewees are less friendly. Alp Mehmet, vice-president of the immigration pressure group Migration Watch UK, is civil, but the reporters grill him on the numbers. “You say you’ve seen 100,000 Romanians come here in the last seven years,” they ask. “Isn’t it safe to say that those who wanted to come have been here quite a while now?”

The retired diplomat, who worked in Romania in the 1980s, is trying to sound reasonable. “I know the Romanian people well, I love the Romanian people,” he wheedles. But this is the same organisation that warned a year ago that 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would arrive when EU rules changed – which looks set to be a massive overestimate.

After the interview he asks them: “How long are you in the UK for?” The journalists quip quickly in response: “Don’t worry, we’re not staying.”

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice