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OU on the BBC: Meet The Immigrants - Programme one

Updated Tuesday, 8th April 2008

Find out more about the first programme in the BBC/OU Meet the Immigrants series.

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Caitlin and Anna Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Yolanta, a young Latvian woman, arrives to start a new job at a hotel in Lyme Regis, Dorset. In Calais, northern France, refugees and asylum seekers gather to try to cross the Channel to enter the UK illegally, after travelling thousands of miles. In Romania, a father says farewell to his young family, before moving to England to start a new life as a taxi driver.

Thousands of refugees from war-torn countries desperate to get into the UK arrive in Calais every year. They arrive exhausted, hungry and in need of a shower. Some of the luckier ones are looked after by Jacqui Vaerhagen, who works for a French charity, Secours Catholique.

The charity’s main function is to help homeless people, providing showers, food and donated clothing. In Calais, following the closure of the Sangatte refugee centre some years ago, this charity work has become an essential feature in the lives of refugees arriving in the town. Most days, many refugees gather in car parks and waste ground around the ferry port. The French police impose a curfew after dark, to prevent refugees from sleeping in the town.

At the end of the day, they head for makeshift camps in the woodland adjoining the motorway. Under cover of darkness, some will take their chance of hiding in a lorry bound for England.

Demand for foreign labour is now so great that British companies are setting up recruitment offices across Eastern Europe. In the past two years one specialist company alone has hired 1000 taxi drivers. They operate a school for taxi drivers in Prague, attended by people from all over Eastern Europe.

It's at this school that we meet Catalin Dobrisan, a Romanian from the city of Oradea, where he lives with his wife Anna and their two children. He has paid to enrol on a course that costs the equivalent of three months’ of his Romanian income. Catalin must pass the taxi driver exam if his dream of a new life in Britain is to become reality.

British hotels are particularly reliant on migrant labour. Kathryn Richards, the owner of the Alexandra Hotel in Lyme Regis, has no doubts about them. She recruited Yolanta Bikova from Latvia. Her move isn’t all about money. She is young and wants to see the world. She will be paid the same as any British employee at the hotel.

First broadcast: Monday 14 Apr 2008 on BBC ONE

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