Matthew Holehouse, Telegraph (London), November 11, 2013
British cities could face race riots as an influx of Roma migrants creates “frictions” with local people, David Blunkett, a former home secretary has warned.
Anti-social behaviour by Roma people in his Sheffield constituency has resulted in “understandable tensions” among the indigenous community that must be addressed to avert disorder, Mr Blunkett said.
Roma migrants from Slovakia must “change their culture” and send their children to school, stop dumping rubbish and loitering in the streets in order to soothe tensions, Mr Blunkett said.
Otherwise, the community could “explode” in the same way northern towns were rocked by disorder between Asian and white neighbourhoods in the summer of 2001, Mr Blunkett said.
Britain is now home to 200,000 Roma migrants, one of the largest populations in Western Europe, a recent study shows. Most have come from eastern Europe since 2004 and the numbers are growing rapidly. Several hundred families live in the Page Hall district of Sheffield. Locals have set up “street patrols” in response to anti-social behaviour by migrants.
“If everything exploded, if things went wrong, the community would obviously be devastated,” Mr Blunkett said. “We saw this is Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became Home Secretary. If things implode it’s not outside here that cops it, it’s the community.”
In 2001, the northern towns of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley saw serious rioting, following tensions between the growing Asian community and far-right groups such as the National Front and the British National Party. Shops were torched, hundreds of police officers injured and more than 200 people jailed.
The cultural gulf between the Roma and the settled community is 50 per cent greater than that between white Britons and Pakistani immigrants who came to Britain a generation ago, Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio.
“The Roma youngsters have come from a background even more different culturally, because they were living in the edge of woods, not going to school, not used to the norms of everyday life. We’ve got to change that,” he said.
Local police must persuade Roma people “not to spend all their time in the street” and discourage them from throwing rubbish and living in over-crowded houses.
Indigenous locals are entitled to “grumble” about the influx of migrants, Mr Blunkett said but must not “stir up hate”.
“I wouldn’t want other people to put up with things I wouldn’t put up with myself,” he said. “This is nothing to do with criticising people about being racist. By all means grumble, but don’t stir up hate. If you set a fire alight, you came from Bradford, you saw it — nobody gained from that.”
He added: “There’s always a danger that you are right on the edge of the understandable tensions. It’s a cry for help from very, many people: ‘please, for goodness sake, put us back to the semblance we had before’,” he said.
In 2011 official estimates suggested “relatively few Roma citizens” lived in the UK.
The Government has is “head in the sand” over the true numbers and is failing to take advantage of European Union funding to help cope with migration, Mr Blunkett said.
Asked about his own policies for handling migrants while Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett said: “They weren’t as brilliant as I would have liked, but they were there.”
Local charities have done a “phenomenal job” in bringing the communities together, he added.