Romanians Who Live in the UK Talk About Life After Brexit

"My contract was changed and there's an English guy at work who has now started to openly hate on our Romanian and Polish coworkers."

by Denis Adrian Andrei
04 August 2016, 11:00pm

Photo via Wikimedia

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania

Romanians really love to travel. So much so that some of them never return home. That's what I did, too: I travelled all over Europe and then decided to settle down in Manchester.

In 2015, there were about 223,000 Romanians living legally in the United Kingdom. 2015 was also the year when the EU referendum was first announced and so people started to debate and estimate the result. Most of Romanian expats were certain team Remain would win, but it turned out we were wrong. I will always remember the confused expressions on my friends faces the day of the results, and the horrible mood everyone was in.

Yet, it's been a month and the Thames still flows, the Big Ben bells still chime and your coworkers will still get the gak in after the pub on Friday. Seemingly nothing's changed. I wanted to feel the pulse of the Romanians out here, to find out how this month has gone by for them, so I talked to a few fellow expats in England.

Bogdan works for the "Romanians Together" centre in London

VICE: How did you feel about the result of the referendum?
Bogdan: It was obviously a surprising result for everyone. But it's what the British people wanted and we all need to be respect that. All that's left for us to do is to adapt to this new reality.

Tell me about the changes you've seen at work, in the wake of Brexit.
Well, since my main activity is at the Romanians Together centre, we've been contacted by many Romanians who wanted to know how Brexit would affect them. Besides that, people are also interested in finding out what they need to do to obtain British citizenship.

What would you advise Romanians who want to emigrate to the UK now?
I would advise them to come prepared, preferably with a work contract, to know the English language as well as they can and to come with good intentions.

Are you worried about your future in the UK?
I can't say there's something that worries me. Great Britain is a democratic state, with sensible laws that provide safety for its citizens, and has powerful economic policies in place. I trust it will all be alright.

Dariana studies architecture in Kirklees

VICE: How did you react when you heard about the EU referendum result?
Dariana: I think our gravest mistake was that we didn't even think that result was even possible. What sucks is that even the Brits themselves didn't expect it. No one was expecting this. That option hadn't even been accounted for, at least not by the Brits I got the chance to talk to, before the vote. It seemed to be just a formality that would sanction the existing situation.

It all started to get real on the night of the vote count and still that night, even though the result was obvious, I fell asleep unconcerned. I thought the situation would "sort itself out" by the next morning. I thought a nation like this could do better. That feeling turned to dismay in the morning.

Are you now considering returning home after university, more than you did before the referendum?
No. The problem is the uncertainty here. The UK will, at some point, leave the EU but you don´t know when and on what terms. The situation seems so disastrous that all people seem to want is to see it postponed indefinitely. I'm not thinking of going back home, for the simple reason that I still don't know how this result will affect me, in time. I don't want to rush into anything, nothing is going on yet.

Alex works in a textile factory in Manchester

VICE: If you had had the right to vote, how would you have voted in the EU referendum?
Alex: I would have voted for them to stay! So it would be easier to find a job, keep the right to live anywhere in Europe, and for the sake of the value of the British Pound.

Has your life changed in the weeks since Brexit?
The main thing that has affected me has been the change in supermarket prices, which have gone up. For instance, before Brexit, two bottles of coke were £2, now they cost £3.

Has anything changed?
My contract was changed – the company is no longer paying for our breaks, which were 30 minutes every night. So now I get paid for 37 hours a week instead of 37,5. Also, there's an English guy at work who has now started to openly hate on our Romanian and Polish coworkers.

Can you elaborate on that?
Here's the deal: There's this guy, he's from Manchester and in his thirties. We used to get along very well. And just one night after Brexit, he suddenly said he's sick of hearing Romanian and Polish spoken around him, without being able to understand a single word.

I told him we all have our own languages and there's no need to get upset over that. He got a bit worked up and said that we, Romanians, have fled from wars in the past so he didn't understand why we should have the right to be in England. Anyway, we all went home and then, the following night, he needed help on the production line where he's the operator, so I offered. He insulted me, shoved me and told me to leave his line 'cause he didn't need any help from people like me. I went back to him three times and politely asked what the matter was, if I had dome something to upset him. He reacted the same way. We don't even say hello to each other any more.

Rebeca is an HR Manager in Manchester

VICE: Has your life changed in the weeks since Brexit?
Rebeca: Actually, my life hasn't changed at all. I have the same job, the same salary and the same schedule. I'm not feeling any effects yet. There haven´t been changes at work. Brexit can't affect me – I fire and hire people the same way I did before. My child speaks English, so he hasn't been discriminated against. We're not feeling any effects whatsoever.

How did you react when you found out about the result?
If I recall correctly, I had this feeling of disappointment and powerlessness but I quickly got over it, when I realised that nothing had changed yet.

We've had a new government for a few days now, how do you expect Teresa May's cabinet to act?
Teresa May has started to take some decisions that will affect human rights but it is known that both she and her government are pro-European. So I think it's obvious that they don't want to initiate Brexit procedures and that they are trying to stall.

What would you advise Romanians who want to emigrate to the UK now, after Brexit?
I would advise them to only come if they have found a job here and they want to work, because you can't live off benefits anymore, the way you used to in the past, when you had 10 kids and stayed at home. England is sick of thieves and people feeling entitled to money from the government, when they haven't contributed a penny to the budget.

Irina is looking for a job in the hospitality industry in Liverpool

VICE: If you had the right to vote, how would you have voted in the EU referendum?
Remain. First of all, for the economy and the prices. Secondly, for the millions of people in the European Union who have families out here, who had started to build a career, or who have one already because Leave has brought on several cases of discrimination. I think this vote is a regression, both economically and socially.

How did you react, when you heard the result of the referendum?
I was expecting it. I was surprised to see that people didn't know what they had voted. I was expecting more of them to vote Leave.

Has anything changed in the last month for you?
The mood at job interviews has changed. Even though in Liverpool the majority voted Remain, I've noticed people keeping a certain distance when they meet me.

Are you considering the possibility of returning to Romania?
No, I now want to stay here more than ever.