On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Gypsies, tramps and thieves

London, Paris and other parts of Europe are ripe for the picking – to petty criminals targeting unsuspecting tourists. And the fingers are pointed at gypsies, more correctly called Romas, who are mostly from Bulgaria and Romania.

IF you are one of the many Malaysians heading for London, Paris and other parts of Europe for the Hari Raya holidays, be cautious of the many gangs of pickpockets there who are targeting unsuspecting tourists.

Rampant crime by these petty criminals has become big news items in the European media with fingers pointed at gypsies, more correctly called Romas, who are mostly from Bulgaria and Romania.

Having taken advantage of the free flow of travel for European Union citizens, these gangs are often found in many tourist spots.

Britain is already bracing for the influx of thousands of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria who will seek work in the United Kingdom as a result of changes to EU immigration rules on Jan 1 next year, a report said.

In London, newspapers have published pictures of Romas practically camping near Marble Arch and Hyde Park, taking advantage of the summer weather.

On July 19, police and immigration authorities ordered these gypsies to leave, and taxpayers had to pick up the bill for their flights home. But when I left London last week, I still saw a small number of these gypsies sleeping along Marble Arch. It seems there is little that the authorities can do about the Romas.

The influential Paris Match magazine published an eight-page report and pictures under the heading “The flagrant crimes of pickpockets” to expose how these criminals brazenly target their victims in broad daylight. One report said “the increasingly aggressive gangs are causing chaos and misery” in Paris.

Their popular spots are around the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre museum, where the staff reportedly staged a walkout because of lack of protection against organised Roma groups who are stealing on “an industrial scale from workers and tourists”.

Popular tourist website www.virtualtourist.com carried a picture of a gypsy gang operating outside the Gare Du Nord train station in Paris.

Strolling along Champs Elysees, which is surely Paris’ most famous street with its strip of shops, cinemas and cafes, I saw how tourists were approached by two teenage Romas. They were asked if they could speak English, and they were soon persuaded to sign fake petitions for some dubious causes.

In this case, those who responded were asked to make some donations, and when the tourists realised they were being duped, they walked off, inviting angry responses from the Romas.

The more unlucky ones, according to reports, would be pickpocketed by the accomplices while they were busy talking to the so-called petition interviewers.

In Athens, outside the Acropolis Museum, I saw Romas who were no more than 10 years old playing musical instruments and hustling tourists for money. Their parents, living the nomadic lifestyle of gypsies, do not send their children to school and such form of begging is a norm.

In France, the authorities have reacted strongly against these nomadic gypsies by dismantling their camps and expelling them.

Last year, according to a report, nearly 13,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were deported from France, an increase of 18.4% on the previous year.

In January, the UK’s Daily Mail reported that 28,000 Romanians were arrested for crime over the last five years.

“That is the equivalent of 15 Romanians being held by the police every day. There are only estimated to be 68,000 living in the UK.

“It puts Romania second only to Poland in the list of countries with the most citizens arrested in London – but there are around half a million Poles in Britain,” the newspaper reported.

The newspaper quoted Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta as admitting that Romanian gypsies are posing a “huge challenge” to Britain’s law enforcement by their begging and stealing.

But not all Romanians are gypsies or criminals. Visiting some Chinese restaurants owned by Malaysians in Bayswater in London, I was told that some Romanian kitchen hands are being trained to cook Chinese food.

One Malaysian restaurant owner complained that Malaysian chefs insisted on a minimum of £500 (RM2,450) a week whereas the Romanians only asked for £100 (RM490) per week.

The Romanians were “slow and easily distracted but did not cause problems”, said the restaurant owner.

I have seen a Romanian cook making simple Chinese food such as fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and noodles.

It looks like the face of cities in Europe, especially London, is fast changing. The Italian restaurants are already full with Bosnian cooks, and now the Romanians are taking over the Chinese restaurants.

What’s new? In Malaysia, the Myanmar people are operating hawkers stalls in coffee shops.