Peterborough has a significant number of Eastern Europeans living and working in the city.
However, there have been reports of families trying to make risky journeys and return to their home countries during the lockdown, especially Slovakia and Romania, as they feel ‘they will be safer’ back home.
The coronavirus death toll in the UK has crossed over 12,000 people, whereas the number of cases in Romania, Czech Republic and even Poland are less than 7000. The UK government introduced a lockdown, urging people to stay at home from March 23, in response to the virus.
Petr Torak runs the Romani(Gypsy) community centre in Peterborough. Sharing light on this issue, Petr said: “Eastern European people feel the measures or precautions for coronavirus are not sufficient in the UK. The number of deaths is causing fear and panic among the communities. There are only a few hundred deaths in their home countries (346 in Romania and 163 in Czech Republic). This comparison is making them feel that UK is not a safe place.
“They are driving to these countries - it's risky but they have been doing it since the lockdown started. One family with five children, that I know of, traveling between the UK and Slovakia were stopped at the Slovakia border and put into the quarantine centre.
“They are self-isolating once they go there but are not realising the risks this brings.”
We asked him who they are going back to and if this is a permanent move. Replying to that Petr said: “They have family back home - their parents or grandparents, even other extended family members.
“It’s a temporary thing, they are leaving their jobs, homes and going. Some of these families have been in the city for decades now. So, they will come back.
“The concern is that they're staying with these family members when they go from here- which puts so many people at risk.”
Peterborough City Council has released awareness and information messages for people in different languages. Petr too has been putting in extra efforts to make sure these communities get the message.
Petr said: “We have been telling them please don’t go back, stay where you are. Please stay at home, don’t go outside the house if it’s not important. We have been sharing these messages with schools- telling students to inform their parents about these measures. Working with the council as well. So, we are trying hard to spread awareness and discourage people from such journeys.
“We are educating them of the risks involved and what precautions need to be taken to maintain social distancing. But, it’s a big worry.”
Coronavirus has brought more problems for this community. Businesses and industries have been impacted due to the lockdown putting jobs at risk. However, staff being furloughed will be paid through the government scheme and won’t be in as much trouble in comparison to those in contract-based labour.
Petr also talked about how there is lack of job security for these communities in Peterborough. A lot of them are on zero-hour contracts, which puts them in a difficult position going forward. Many have lost their jobs. This is putting a lot of burden on families, struggling with day-to day living.
Petr said: “We started a food bank and it’s been so busy. So many people coming through for help, it’s concerning.
“We have also started an advice service for people on how they can claim benefits or support during the crisis. We are getting overwhelming requests. People asking for more information, asking when and how they might be paid, and asking about the food deals and vouchers. It’s been so busy with all kinds of queries from the community.”
On a positive note, many members of the Eastern European communities who are still in Peterborough are spending their time making face masks and scrubs for the NHS staff. Some are even volunteering with the council’s volunteer hub to help with deliveries of food essentials to the vulnerable residents.