Dec 31 - January 1 sees the final lifting of restrictions to the EU jobs markets for workers from Romania and Bulgaria. Some believe it will trigger an invasion and an extra burden on state welfare systems. But, as David Pollard reports, many are playing down such fears.
It looks deserted. It is in fact the Berlin home of 39-year-old Mitko and many others like him. Mitko, who is Roma by origin, left Bulgaria - and a family of three children - to come to Germany five years ago. An injury put paid to his building work. But he's never taken state handouts. SOUNDBITE (Romani) ROMA IMMIGRANT FROM BULGARIA, DIMITAR "MITKO" TODOROV (ROMANES), SAYING: "I have never received one cent. I have lost my job, but never got any social welfare. Things aren't good, I don't know what to do. There are many Roma people here, many Turks, many Bulgarians. Everyone wants a piece of bread. '' Mitko finds himself at the centre of a bitter debate. Politicians and right-leaning journalists focussing on the potential for a massive new wave of migrants - and the extra load on welfare - that might result from Romanians and Bulgarians gaining full access to EU labour markets. Like Hans-Peter Uhl from Germany's Christian Socialist party. SOUNDBITE (German) INTERIOR EXPERT FOR THE CHRISTIAN SOCIAL UNION (CSU), HANS-PETER UHL, SAYING: "We have the free movement of labour in Europe and that is a main idea. That's important for us and we should keep this idea. But freedom of movement doesn't mean free access to our German social welfare system for everyone." And it's the same in Britain, where this right wing tabloid recently called for the UK to close its borders to new migrants. Though Romania's ambassador in London, Jon Jinga, says such demands are out of touch with reality. SOUNDBITE (English) ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM, DOCTOR JON JINGA, SAYING: "Britain has already received about 100,000 Romanians here, and it's true there are still some restrictions on the labour market but in concrete terms those Romanians who wanted to come here, they already did so." So what of those thinking of coming? Some Romanians see the appeal - even if their preferred destination isn't Germany or Britain. SOUNDBITE (Romanian) BUCHAREST RESIDENT, COZMINA, SAYING: "I would leave for France. Since I was a little girl I've studied French language and culture and I like it a lot. They are a civilized nation. Unfortunately, they do not like us that much." And those that do come generally fit the needs of a professional labour force, according to German immigration expert, Klaus Bade. SOUNDBITE (German) MIGRATION EXPERT, KLAUS J. BADE, SAYING: "The total immigration from Romania and Bulgaria doesn't consist of immigration of the poor, but immigration of elites. Eighty percent of them are employed on the German labour market, 46 percent of them are qualified, 22 percent even highly qualified, and have an academic degree.'' Mitko is unqualified. But he says he can't return to Bulgaria because there, the Roma have nothing. Life in Germany is hard, he says, but January 1st might make it a tiny bit easier.