Atlantic Cities
Postcard

German Cities Fear a Fresh Immigration Wave

The European Union expanded east in 2007, admitting Romania and Bulgaria. But fears of mass migration led to work restrictions for immigrants from those two nations. Those expire on January 1, 2014, meaning Romanians and Bulgarians will soon be able to work freely throughout the EU.  

That has been met with fear of an imminent influx of Roma people into Europe's wealthier countries. Opponents worry these workers will move to places like Germany to receive unemployment benefits, a move referred to disparagingly as "welfare tourism." 

The EU's commissioner for employment tells Reuters that just  0.7 to 1.0 percent of the EU's population has partaken in "benefits tourism." Still, with a much higher minimum wage and superior public services, Germany took in nearly 100,000 Romanians and Bulgarians just in the first half of 2013. Some German mayors say they're "overwhelmed by poor migrants with no jobs and no health cover." migrants like Dimitar "Mitko" Todorov, a Roma from Bulgaria who now lives in a former ice factory in Berlin. 

On the surface, his life previews what some Germans fear, though Todorov says he receives no money from the German government ("If you apply, they just say: 'You don't have a registered address; you don't know the language,'" he tells Reuters). Instead, five years after moving to Berlin for construction work, Todoroy injured his back. He now begs and works odd jobs in order to earn a few euros a day.

Photographer Thomas Peter followed Todorov around his makeshift home recently where despite the potential for hostility or resentment towards him among Berliners, Todorov, for now, says he notices none:

Dimitar "Mitko" Todorov, a Roma from the Bulgarian city of Plevna, walks on the roof of a former ice factory that serves as his home in Berlin, December 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

A squatter looks out of the window of a former ice factory in Berlin December 9, 2013.  (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

A Roma migrant from Bulgaria stands outside his makeshift housing in a derelict factory in Berlin, December 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Todorov poses in a former ice factory that serves as his home in Berlin, December 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Todorov sits in his self built shed housing in a derelict factory in Berlin, December 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Dimitar "Mitko" Todorov (R) and his neighbor warm themselves at an open fire in the machine room of a former ice factory that serve as their home in Berlin, December 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Keywords: Berlin, Europe

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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