Romanians deny they are exporting criminals
By Bojan Pancevksi, in Romania
Last Updated: 1:00am BST 23/09/2007
Halfway between Bucharest and the Black Sea coast, the impoverished rural town of Tandarei is experiencing a startling renaissance.
Luxury 4x4s dodge pigs and horse-drawn carriages on its still rundown streets, while lavish mansions are springing up next to shabby peasant huts.
The transformation comes just a year after Romania joined the European Union, transforming the fortunes of the town's 14,000 citizens.
But Tandarei's good fortune comes at the expense of Britain. Vast numbers of Romanians have moved to western Europe, including tens of thousands to the UK, and are now sending money home, a worrying percentage of which is earned from criminal activities in Britain and its neighbours.
Local police say the exodus has meant a reduction in their crime figures. Stan Bitlan, the chief of police, said: “Crime rates have recently dropped, especially for thefts and robberies. But it does not only mean that all the criminals have left, it also means that the economy is improving and people are not forced to steal.”
Mr Bitlan said those who had moved to Britain got their money in three ways: “By stealing, by begging and by cashing in on benefits. They send it home, like other immigrants, to finance new houses, flashy cars and other perks.”
He has been visited twice by colleagues from the Metropolitan Police and is devising a project with his British counterparts that would involve officers travelling here to assist police in tackling their criminal compatriots.
But despite the evident need for international co-operation in cross-border crime, the mayor of Tandarei, Mr Vasile Sava, rejects the notion that his town has become an exporter of crime to countries such as Britain.
“We are certainly not exporting criminals,” he said. “Lots of skilled workers from all professions have left to work abroad, and they are sending money back home. If a few among them are criminals, it doesn't mean that we can brand all of them as such.”
Mr Sava admits that many offenders derive from the numerous Roma minority, but claims integration measures put in place by his administration are about to overcome the problem.
An estimated 1.5 million of Romania's 22 million inhabitants are Roma, most of them living in secluded and underprivileged communities.
Most in the Roma-populated outskirts of Tandarei have relatives living in the UK. Shellsuits and jewellery and gold teeth are the order of the day. They gave a friendly welcome. Then some of them admit to stealing and living off benefits.
Stan Cartian, 43, lived in London for six years but was recently deported for working illegally. He said: “Here, we are only gipsies and not human beings. But in Britain everyone is kind to us, even the authorities, and work is well paid.”
His son Aron, 19, is currently visiting from Manchester. He moved there to rent a house after finding London too expensive. He drives a Renault Laguna, and claims to finance himself by selling the Big Issue, the newspaper sold by homeless people.
He said: “It's easy to make money in Britain. Here, we Roma have not felt the arrival of the EU. Authorities may receive some funds and subsidies, but here in our neighbourhood there is no running water, no heating, nothing.”
Another man in the group left in a car with French licence plates. He would not give his name, or have his picture taken. But he said: “Of course, when there are no newspapers to sell, we have no choice but to go for the fat purses. You need to steal sometimes if there are no jobs.”