Alina* and her husband want a better life for their two children, now 12 and seven years old. With high unemployment and an economy in crisis, they didn’t see much of a future for their young family in Romania.  They left their children behind with an aunt and arrived in London with little more than a will to find work and start again.

Difficult start

But breaking into London was harder then expected. “We knew nothing,” says Alina, a petite 28-year old with dark, expressive eyes.  She looks youthful wearing skinny jeans and a butterfly clip in her hair, but the gap in her smile from a few missing teeth hints at a hard life.

After arriving in London with no money and nowhere to stay, they slept on the street around Victoria Station. Alina’s husband is a skilled builder, but the London construction companies he approached asked to see his construction skills certificates and National Insurance numbers, none of which he had.

After working their way up the waiting list, they secured a spot in our shelters. From here, our caseworker Boguslaw helped them apply for the necessary documents and open bank accounts so they would be job-ready.

 “Boguslaw helps me with everything. I give thanks every time.” Soon, Alina found work as a cleaner, and her husband found work on a construction site.

A new beginning

Within six months of arriving, they had saved enough for a small flat and moved their children to London, reuniting the family again. Boguslaw helped them file for Child Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and even supported them in finding suitable schools for their children. 

Alina now works at a care home as a domestic assistant. “I like to help people. When I came here, many people help me. And when they need my help, I like to help.” 

But she worries what the future holds. She worries the public will further turn against Romanian immigrants with the negative attention they receive in the press. “Romanians maybe do some bad things. But it’s not all Romanians.” Although not an ethnic Roma herself, she has nothing bad to say about this group: 

Every culture has its good and bad. For me, people are the same. I give respect, I want the same back.

But the children get teased at school, she says, and she worries. “They say ‘you are gypsy, you should go back to your home.’ My son is upset; he doesn’t understand. I tell him: ‘It doesn’t matter what they say. You know who you are. They have to see who you are, what you can do.’”

For now, Alina focuses on working hard and getting ahead. She travels three hours each way to her job. On top of work and her time spent in her epic commute, Alina also takes a training course to help her climb the care-worker ladder.

Despite the difficulties, Alina has no doubt they are doing what is best for the family. “I want the children to finish school here. … I stay here for the kids. In general, for school, they have more opportunity here. After when they have their own lives, and I’m too old, maybe I go back,” she says with a laugh. “For now, we try to do what is best for the kids.”

*To respect her privacy, Alina's name has been changed and an alternative photo used.