Paula’s Story | “The EU Settlement Scheme was built for people with easy lives”

Updated: May 10

Paula supports Big Issue vendors in Bristol. She’s passionate about EU citizens standing up for their rights and being represented in decision making in the UK.

“I came to Bristol 8 years ago, after I finished university in Bucharest. I wasn’t planning to stay for long, I wanted to travel, see and experience the world. I found myself building a life here pretty quickly. I really liked the music scene, the city was green, bike friendly, and I made friends straight away. I was met by a greater sense of community, and connected with people.

In 2020, during lockdown, like many of us, I was considering my career and future. I wanted to use my language skills to help other people. I did an interpreting course and when I noticed there were lots of Romanian people selling The Big Issue, I applied to volunteer. A few months later, I got a frontline job, delivering support.

For a long time, I was embarrassed to tell people I was Romanian. I had come to expect prejudice and discrimination. After living here for quite a long time, I now feel like I have some privilege here, so I started helping other people like me, to feel more welcomed here and know their rights. I want to change the way Romanians are perceived, and for our community to know they are respected here and we can stand up for ourselves.

At The Big Issue, I support vendors to become financially stable and earn a legitimate income. Every single work day is different. I get to connect with people and often we’re the only stable and trustworthy network people have. I work with the Roma community, Romanian, British, we support many nationalities.

A huge part of what I do is encourage people to build a better image about themselves. They get to form their own customer relationships, professional skills and personal goals through selling the magazine. It’s the first step on their path to a better future.

I work a lot with the Roma community and I’m part of wider strategy groups, joining up services. GRT communities still face a lot of discrimination and we encourage people to report hate crimes. A lot of abuse is not reported because people have gone through traumatic experiences and they don’t think anyone will listen to their problems.

I want my vendors to know they are important, that their lives are meaningful. I encourage them to do greater things, and slowly move on from The Big Issue and realise what they want to do next.

“Many vendors from the Roma community cannot access their status”

The EU Settlement Scheme wasn’t built for vulnerable people. For people I work with, the biggest challenge is accessing their status. Many don’t have digital access and skills. Other people helped them gain status, and now they don’t have ownership of it - it’s a digital system somewhere, which they have to ask for permission from the government to access.

Delays also leave people in limbo. I’ve worked with a vendor who had to wait for over a year for a decision. He was in precarious employment because employers weren’t recognising his right to work. No one would give him a job.

This change in immigration status has left many confused. Having been here for decades, a Roma vendor didn’t realise he had to apply to the scheme. He doesn’t consider himself a migrant, he’s lived almost his whole life here, he’s assimilated in the culture and systems.

Another challenge we were faced with was ensuring all clients apply for their children before the deadline. Most of their children are born in the UK, some of them have never even visited Romania, and didn’t assume their children had to go through the same immigration process.

We’re often the only place where most people can get information and advice from. They wouldn’t know where to go to apply, if we weren’t here.

I’m very wary of the repercussions this scheme will have long-term in people’s lives.

“We need better representation for Romanians and the Roma community”

I am hopeful for the future though. I see every day how at The Big Issue, and in other community support groups, we create bonds and safe places for people to go and seek advice and support each other.

It’s this spirit that will make it better for ourselves and our communities. I want us to have a stronger voice and be better represented, in our local council, in the media, in government. When we get a place at the table and get to speak up for ourselves, people will see the value of our contribution to our communities and this country.

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