Each night Roma beggars wheel their belongings in trollies into the pedestrian underpasses beneath the busy roads at Hyde Park Corner and set up camp. Each encampment corresponds to a different village in Romania. As one explains, ‘Our village is down at the bottom of Park Lane. At the edge of the streets of the Arabs.’ They are brought over by criminal gangs who have given them loans at 100 per cent rate of interest. There is no escape and no return home: ‘We are never going to make back the loans.’ The debt collectors ‘have our children’.
The Roma lay out their mattresses and prepare to sleep. Late-night revellers refuse to see the ‘invisible village’ or cry out in shock, ‘But this is Hyde Park Corner, bruv!’ The walls above the sleeping Roma are decorated with drawings of Victorian London, ‘men in top hats and ladies in flowing frocks … cavalry charges and country houses’, now ‘smeared with blood and shit’.
In this one image of heartbreak, squalor and irony, Ben Judah sums up much of the immigrant experience in This Is London. An overseas correspondent, Judah examines his home town as if it were a foreign metropolis. And indeed this is what it has become. Over half of Londoners are