Romanians, Bulgarians and other European groups living in Britain are campaigning to stop the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP) from winning seats in upcoming EU elections.
One of the groups behind the initiative is AARBD, an alliance opposing the discrimination against Romanians and Bulgarians, which was set up in December last year to counter the relentless negative stereotyping of Eastern European migrants.
Romanian Victor Spirescu found himself in the thick of it when he landed at Luton airport on 1 January 2014 to be greeted by television cameras. He had stepped off the plane on the day working restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians were lifted, making him the face of the British immigration debate – which had taken a Kafkaesque turn.
Britain’s tabloid media had laid the groundwork for Spirescu’s temporary fame with warnings of an ‘impending invasion’ of jobseekers and benefit scroungers, which never materialized.
‘We felt misrepresented,’ says AARBD co-founder Tommy Tomescu, a 32-year-old Romanian dentist who has lived in London since 2010. ‘They never mentioned professionals like doctors or architects; they focused on negative facts and lies.
‘The Romanian and Bulgarian communities decided to fight back when they realized this was impacting people’s everyday lives. We wanted to give a voice to our communities, to react against racism.’
The Eurosceptic UKIP has nearly doubled its popularity in the last 12 months, and is expected to fare well in the European Parliamentary elections on 22-25 May.
In response, groups such as Tomescu’s Alliance and the ‘New Europeans’ are reaching out to the wider European community in Britain, mobilizing the migrant vote for alternative, progressive candidates; in Lincoln, two Polish candidates and one Lithuanian will be standing for election as independents against UKIP.