UK town feels ‘swamped’ by wave of im­mi­gra­tion from East Europe

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY JES­SICA BERTHEREAU

For cen­turies the town of Bos­ton in eastern Eng­land saw its in­hab­i­tants em­i­grate around the world, no­tably lend­ing the name of their home­town to the city in the U.S. state of Mas­sachusetts.

But for the last 10 years the flow has reversed, and the ten­sions caused by an in­flux of im­mi­grants is driv­ing de­bate ahead of the United King­dom’s May 7 gen­eral elec­tion.

Since the en­large­ment of the Euro­pean Union in 2004, Bos­ton has seen the ar­rival of Poles, Lat­vians and Lithua­ni­ans.

Be­tween 2001 and the last cen­sus in 2011, its for­eign­born pop­u­la­tion in­creased 467 per­cent — the largest in­crease any­where in the UK — to reach 15 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

“I think Bos­ton is feel­ing quite de­pressed at the mo­ment,” said school in­spec­tor Anna Lai­ley de Ville, 57.

“We have so many mi­grant work­ers here and re­ally there’s not enough hous­ing, not enough school places, not enough places in the hos­pi­tals and I think the gov­ern­ment hasn’t re­ally thought about this too care­fully.”

‘ Anger’ about Mi­grants

Shops on one of the town’s main streets are packed with eastern Euro­pean pro­duce and odd- jobs ad­ver­tised on no­tice boards are more of­ten writ­ten in Lat­vian or Pol­ish than in English.

Lai­ley de Ville pre­dicted that many Bos­ton res­i­dents would vote for the anti-im­mi­gra­tion UK In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP) “out of anger” in next month’s vote.

The par­lia­men­tary con­stituency of Bos­ton and Skeg­ness is cur­rently held by Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s Con­ser­va­tive Party, but UKIP is win­ning sup­port with its prom­ise to leave the EU as the only way to re­duce im­mi­gra­tion.

John Gard­ner, 59, is among those torn be­tween the two par­ties, say­ing that im­mi­gra­tion has put a “strain on our re­sources.”

“My daugh­ter works in a hos­pi­tal, my son is a teacher and they tell me about the amount of for­eign stu­dents, for­eign pa­tients and it’s just mak­ing life harder for them,” he said.

In some lo­cal schools, it is hard to find more than one child who speaks English as their mother tongue, pre­sent­ing a real chal­lenge for teach­ers, Lai­ley de Ville said.

‘ Mak­ing a ra­tio­nal choice’

Con­ser­va­tive lo­cal coun­cilor Mike Gil­bert said the area has taken in more im­mi­grants than it can cope with.

He ar­gues the in­flux is driven in part by the UK’s rel­a­tively gen­er­ous wel­fare state, and notes his party has promised to clamp down on benefits for EU mi­grants.

“They are just mak­ing a ra­tio­nal choice by com­ing to Bos­ton,” he said, list­ing off benefits such as hous­ing as­sis­tance, in­di­vid­ual child pay­ments, and ac­cess to free health care and ed­u­ca­tion.

“When you put that pack­age to­gether, why wouldn’t some­body come?”

But he ac­knowl­edges the work­ers also come be­cause of a de­mand for flex­i­ble la­bor in Lin­colnshire, a farm­ing heart­land in eastern Eng­land.

Many im­mi­grants work as field hands and food pro­cess­ing work­ers; low- paid, low- skilled jobs that keep the lo­cal econ­omy go­ing.

There are com­plaints that the work­ers cram into ac­com­mo­da­tion and have helped in­crease rent prices.

More stri­dent has been an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivist Dean Everitt, who com­plained about be­ing a “for­eigner in my own coun­try.”

“I live in Eng­land, I am an English per­son, I ex­pect to be able to speak English in my own coun­try, not have to learn Pol­ish or Lat­vian to work in the lo­cal fac­tory,” he said.

He com­plained that the new ar­rivals were not even con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy, shop­ping at eastern Euro­pean gro­cery shops which im­ported their prod­ucts and then sent the prof­its to rel­a­tives back home.

Most of the im­mi­grants out on West Street, one of Bos­ton’s main shop­ping streets, de­clined to dis­cuss the crit­i­cism, of­ten cit­ing their poor English.

But Anna, a 30-year-old Pol­ish woman who works as a trans­la­tor, said more and more of her com­pa­tri­ots were mak­ing an ef­fort to in­te­grate, no­tably by tak­ing English lan­guage cour­ses.

EU mi­grants are net con­trib­u­tors to the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral stud­ies, in­clud­ing one by Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don that said they have brought 20 bil­lion pounds to Bri­tish cof­fers over the past decade.

And not ev­ery­one is un­happy with the new ar­rivals in Bos­ton.

“Ev­ery shop around the cor­ner has a dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­ity — bril­liant. Let’s eat the dif­fer­ent food, meet the dif­fer­ent peo­ple,” said pen­sioner Gra­ham Scarborough.

“If it wasn’t for them, more than half of the shops in West Street would be empty,” added Richard Good­win, 64. “From that point of view, they are do­ing us a fa­vor.”

AFP

(Top) Mus­tard is seen on sale in an Eastern Euro­pean food shop in the mar­ket town of Bos­ton, Eng­land on March 5.

(Above) Shop­pers walk along the high street in Bos­ton, Eng­land on March 5.

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