The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4 - TV review: Playing the system? English-speaking Alex is cleaning our streets while sleeping rough

We got to know three men and their stories variously confirmed and confounded the stereotypes

Ellen E. Jones
Wednesday 18 February 2015 00:00 GMT
Hard times: Alex featured in 'The Romanians Are Coming'
Hard times: Alex featured in 'The Romanians Are Coming'

You've seen a few documentaries about immigration before but you've never seen one quite like Channel 4's new three-parter. That's because The Romanians Are Coming is completely from the point of view of the immigrants themselves, and its unapologetic approach to this well-rehearsed debate is rather refreshing.

Our narrator was proud Romanian Gypsy Alex Fechete Petru, but we didn't hear much about him in this first episode – he promised that his story will come next week. Instead, Alex told us about the 20,000 other Romanians who arrived in the UK last year, most of whom contribute to the economy. "But I don't want to lie to you, there are some Romanians that come with no jobs and nowhere to live. And it's Gypsies like these that scare the shit out of you."

We got to know three such men and their stories variously confirmed and confounded the stereotypes. Alex (not the narrator, a different Alex) is a Romanian national who moved here via Canada where he'd spent several years. He spoke perfect English with a Canadian accent and was currently working as a street cleaner, while sleeping rough in a car park near Victoria station.

Things were even worse for Sandu, a father of nine who arrived from one of the poorest parts of Romania in search of work, accompanied by his eldest son "Their English is so bad they wouldn't understand even if they were offered a job," observed the narrator, and in one particularly piteous scene that proved true.

It was Stefan, however, who seemed to most closely resemble the bogeyman of Ukip's nightmares. As soon as his benefit money came in, he sent the majority of it home to his family and then took himself off to an NHS dentist to get his teeth fixed. When Alex asked Stefan where he supposed the money came from, he hazarded a guess: "The EU?"

Stefan doesn't understand how the NHS works, because they don't have one in Romania. The more we discovered about his home situation, the botched operation that had left his young daughter unable to walk, the more he seemed like a father doing what any other father would, given the same set of desperate circumstance.

In any case, as Alex's narration pointed out, Stefan is in the minority. Less than two and a half thousand Romanians are on benefits in this country. Hopefully, The Romanians Are Coming will also include some more representative stories.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in