In Depth

EU migrants: No 'influx' from Romania as controls lifted

Press and MPs accused of 'xenophobia' and 'hysteria' as 'stampede' of EU migrants fails to materialise

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SEVERAL MPs and an eager phalanx of journalists greeted flights from Romania yesterday, but predictions of a huge influx of migrant workers were unfounded.

The lifting, on New Year's Day, of EU transitional controls banning Romanians and Bulgarians from working in the UK triggered warnings of a "stampede" of migrants from sections of the press. But there was "no immediate sign of a wave of new arrivals", reports Channel 4 News.

Most of the Romanians who were met at Luton airport by home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz and committee member Mark Reckless yesterday, were workers returning to jobs after spending the Christmas break in their homeland.

Said Vaz: "We've seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it's the 1st of January."

Writing in The Guardian, Seumas Milne calls yesterday's dearth of new arrivals "the influx that never was". While "rightwing politicians and press" warned that New Year's Day would see the "floodgates" opened to Romanians and Bulgarians, the reality was very different. "There was no sign of them," writes Milne.

"No doubt the numbers will pick up," adds Milne, "though it won't be on the scale of the east European migration of the past decade. But for months, we have been subjected to a drumbeat of hysteria, as the Tories vied with the nationalist UK Independence party to terrify the public about the coming onslaught and promise ever more meaningless or toxic crackdowns, egged on by a xenophobic media."

The Independent visited Heathrow airport yesterday and suggests there may be more Britons heading to Bucharest than vice versa. "On the evidence of Flight BA886 – from Heathrow to Bucharest's Henri Coanda International airport – it seems that Romania and Bulgaria may have more to worry about than we do," the paper says.

Meanwhile, an employment recruitment agency based in Bucharest told Euronews that fewer Romanians have been asking about jobs in Britain recently.

The lack of excitement about the lifting of transitional controls on 1 January was echoed by Mihai Fertig, an operator of coach services from Romania to the UK. He told Euronews he is not counting on a boom in business. "The majority of the people who want to work abroad are already there," he said. "We expect, because of the opening of the market, that bookings will increase by maybe 10 per cent."

The Guardian's Hugh Muir says it would be a "disaster" if anti-migrant rhetoric dissuaded new workers from coming to the UK. Writes Muir: "The real crisis would be a Britain that migrants do not aspire to."

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