Cardiff, United Kingdom – Elena M’lenga has lived in Wales since 2008.
It is here where she has made her home and given birth to her daughter. She works full-time and pays her taxes.
But the 37-year-old, originally from Romania, says she has faced xenophobic abuse, being told: “If you’re not happy here, you should go back home.”
And that is not the worst of it.
“In 2014, I was pregnant with my second child,” she told Al Jazeera. “I was badly treated in hospital. I was sick and the gynaecologists decided to give me some tablets, but they were incompatible with the first few months of my pregnancy. My condition didn’t get any better.
“The time came when one of the ladies in the hospital told me that I should think of aborting the child. As I had a child at home who was three years old, I decided to take the medication to terminate the pregnancy.
“Also, I suffer from a chronic condition. One of the nurses who knew of my condition told me that she believed I was a prostitute. If I was British they would have never spoken to me this way. I suffered from depression for years after that.”
Maria Brock is a postdoctoral researcher in Cardiff University’s Central and East European Research Group and says the United Kingdom‘s withdrawal from the European Union has affected migrants through the legitimisation of xenophobic discourse and a growing culture of venting resentment at a lack of economic opportunity by blaming migrants – notably Romanians and Bulgarians.
What creates this? “People’s ignorance of the lived experiences of others and a lack of appreciation of the contribution back to the UK thanks to migrant workers,” she says. “More recently, [there has been] open hostility at times.”
Predi Andrei, a Romanian student at Swansea University, agrees.
“People tend to see us as burglars, ‘gypsies’, bad people – when in fact we want to be part of the community,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Imagine having to see your children grow up on a FaceTime call? It is not easy.”
Romanians make up the second-largest group of non-nationals in the UK, after Poles. The Office for National Statistics reports that Romanians made up the largest number of new arrivals to the UK in 2018 – while the European Commission’s Eurostat agency says Romania has the fifth-fastest declining population through migration of all EU member nations.
They might go home because they understood Brexit all wrong - and they think they will be deported or expelled from Britain
With the UK being the first country to leave the EU, many of those who have moved here from EU countries are feeling alienated and unwelcome.
“It has affected me,” said Andrei. “I felt unwanted, misjudged – even at job [interviews], if you tell them you are Romanian they smile and diplomatically tell you they will call you later about the position – and they never do.”
Approximately 3.4 million Romanians left their country between 2007 and 2015 to escape poverty and corruption, according to a recent UN International Migration Report.
But Marius-Constantin Budai, the Romanian minister for labour, told ITV News that a million jobs awaited Romanians wanting to return from the UK, with the government in Bucharest launching a campaign to encourage workers to return.
“We want all Romanians to come home if possible,” Budai said.
But none of the Romanian migrant workers we spoke to was aware of the campaign.
“If the migrants are going back home, it is not because of the economical increase – as there is no such thing,” said Andrei.
“They might go home because they understood Brexit all wrong – and they think they will be deported or expelled from Britain.”
Coming to the UK from Romania is seen as a major financial investment in one’s personal future. But with a political programme of economic austerity and a growing hostile environment for migrants, many are starting to question the returns on their investment.
“Romanians are worried that they will have to go back home, or to choose a different country in which to live,” concludes M’lenga.
“Brexit was one thing that I believe incited the British people. I am hoping nothing bad will happen, but if the worst is to come, I know I have the alternative to choose to go back home.”