Four Profiles of Romanian Roma Migrants

Every morning on Seven Sisters road in north London, a small group of Romanians, Bulgarians, Turkish, Albanians and Polish gather to seek day labour or manual labour. During the spring and summer 2012, I did field observations by spending time with the men. On occasion, our conversations would last from 30 minutes to 3 hours, sitting in the nearby café, sipping from our tea while I listened to them talk about their lives. The men (Roma and non-Roma Romanians) in the picture agreed for me to take this picture earlier this month.

Below are four short stories of other Romanian Roma whom I spoke to who are seeking work. Click on the names to read their stories.

[toggle title=”Costa – 40 years old man from southern Romania”]Occupation: Day Labourer; Year of arrival: 2012

Costa is a father of four. His older daughter is  in her first year studying medicine in Romania. His three sons are in secondary school.

In Romania, he worked as a security guard and for 1 year as a mediator in school. The mediator job was supported by the PHARE programme – an EU initiative on access to education for disadvantaged groups. He was responsible for supporting Roma children and ensure that the parents encouraged their attendance at school. It was not easy to motivate the children, especially when their parents said, ‘why should I send my children to school when they are stupid’.

Working as a School Mediator was a short lived experience

When I asked him what he thinks about EU integration, he said that ‘the EU funds gets lost at the county level’. He means that the problem is that the funds administrated by the local councils disappear. He had a good job as a mediator and he enjoyed helping the community, but it stopped after one year when the funds ran out. Costa decided to travel to seek work in the UK where he knew some friends had jobs.

Saving Money For Family

It’s hard not to have the family around. At one point, he said, ‘Do you know what is happening to me as we speak now? I’m missing my family and want to go back’. Costa told me that he swore he would not spend any more money on coffee. He thought that £2.00 per day spent drinking coffee is £2 less for his children and it means a lot more to them than to him. In the end, coffee is not a necessity. He sends as much money as he can home to his family. Costa told me he wishes to return to Romania. He misses his family and lately there has hardly been any work in London.


[toggle title=”Ivona – 33 years old woman from southern Romania”]Occupation: Café waitress; Year of arrival: 2012

Ivona is a mother of two girls in secondary education. The girls live in Romania with their grandmother who looks after them whilst she is working in the UK. She comes from Ciobotari (or Vatrari) Roma group. Traditionally, this Roma group’s occupation has been to make boots and shoes. With the collapse of communism, this occupation has depleted along with others, such as agriculture.

She ended her education at age 16 and was married by the age of 17. After that she earned a professional qualification as a beautician. She married young because in her community when a young woman is seen going out with a man there are pressures to marry him. Soon after the birth of her second child, she and her husband divorced. 

I want my  girls to go to university

In Romania, Ivona was earning little money as a nails beautician. Despite the help from her family, it was not enough for her to provide for her two children to go to school. She said to me, ‘I am a good mother, not like my ex-husband says that I left because I don’t care about the girls. I left because I want to make some future for them. I don’t want them to get married at a young age like me. I want them to go to University.’

Here or there?

In a soft voice, she tells me ‘it’s hard to be here without the girls. I miss them. I’m going to work till I make money for the flight and then go back. The people in the house I live with tell me that I shouldn’t go to Romania ’cause there is nothing to do there. It’s hard there, but I don’t think I can accommodate here. The weather is just too different. I am going to leave.’

England is the only country where something can still be done. In Italy or Germany nothing works any longer. She says because ‘toti sau smecherit’ – in Romanian that means they all caught up with the tricks Romanians do abroad. What she means here is that some Romanians take advantage of the system. They claim unfairly benefits, they steal or beg. This reflects negatively on the greater majority of those who do not have such tendencies.



[toggle title=”Romică – 35 years old man from southern Romania”]Occupation: Day labourer; Date of arrival: 2012

Romică married three times. His wife has a 14 years old son from her previous marriage. On his fathers’ side he tells me that he is part of the spoitori Roma in Romania. His mum is from the ursari clan/etnie. This etnie is known to originate from the nomad clan of Roma who used to travel as circus entertainers and owners of bears (hence the name ursari, which in Romanian means bear leaders).

Discrimination in Romania

Romică left Romania to work in the UK because he was discriminated against on several occasions when he tried to find employment. Once he went for a job as a security guard in a wine company. He saw a sign in the window advertising for security positions. He told the secretary that he would like to apply. After a few looks and exchanges with other staff the receptionist told him the positions were gone. He said he was sure he was treated like that because of being Roma. Another time he tried to find a job in a car wash, but they said to him that they do not hire gypsies (in Romanian the derogatory term is ţigan) because they steal from the cars.

Being Apart from Family

Romică’s family needed money, so he needed to travel abroad to find work. His wife became pregnant just before he left Romania. Being apart from his wife for long periods of time is very stressful. There has not been much work for a while for Romică in London and this makes it more difficult for him to save money for his family.  When he does not work he spends more money and sends less back home.



[toggle title=”Vasi – 50 years old man from southern Romania”]Occupation: Day labourer; Year of arrival: 2012

He is a father of four and all his children are here in the UK, they all live together. The youngest child is 24 years old. He asks rhetorically, ‘Why should I leave them home, to worry about them? To keep thinking about them?’ The boys are working in a construction company. The girls work too. In Romania, there is not much to do anyway, so here at least they save some money.

Vasi and his extended family are of Rudari Roma ethnicity. This Roma group have been working and living among Romanians for centuries. Traditionally, they worked as coal miners and were first recorded in 1620, in the Romanian Country Principate. They do not understand any of the Romani dialects spoken in Romania.

Migrating to be together as a family

Vasi moved to London to work together with his sons. He is an experienced builder. When his older daughter came to the UK the first time she saw how her father lives and was not happy with the poor conditions of living. In Romania, they live well and decent, but they can not save money or progress. She decided to move to the UK, so she could be together with the rest of the family and also look after her father.

Not Welcome Anywhere

Vasi said a sentence that struck me: he said, ţiganii (gypsy) will always be victimised and persecuted. I asked him, if he is optimistic about the situation of Romanian Roma. He said, ‘the Roma will never be tolerated anywhere because they are victimised and persecuted at home, in Romania’. That’s why he thinks, that ‘Roma will not be welcome anywhere.’





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