Sheffield MPs stoke up conflict with Roma migrants

by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.

Nick  Clegg and David Blunkett ought to know better. Both Sheffield MPs have  attacked the Roma minority in the Page Hall area of Sheffield. Blunkett says "We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that." Clegg’s view is that: "If you do things that people find intimidating, such as large groups hanging around on street corners, you have got to listen to what other people in the community say."

Surely they must realise by now that by singling out a particular community as the source of discord and disharmony they actually legitimise discrimination that can lead quite quickly to violence.  They are in a real sense becoming part of the problem rather than part of any solution. No surprise then that Blunkett’s speech has received high praise from UKIP’s Nigel Farage. Underneath most of the coverage of the Roma in Page Hall are the same old racist tropes that have been used so often against other scapegoated groups. “They hang around on street corners”, “their young people are intimidating”, “they are dirty and create  rubbish”, “they are not like us and they refuse to integrate”.  All of these accusations have been made about the Roma in Sheffield and from time immemorial at recently arrived migrant groups. Hearsay, innuendoes and misconceptions are rife on the streets of Page Hall and the MPs’ intervention has appeared to legitimise many of these rumours in a dangerous and combustible way.  In fact the local Police report that there has not been any significant increase in local crime figures since the Roma started arriving a few years ago.

If local  and national Government want to improve the situation and ensure good race relations in these neighbourhoods for all the communities that are located there then the solution does not involve the complexities of  rocket science. Give the young people in the area something to do. Employ a few community workers from the Roma community to explain the views of both sides to each other. Invest in the local area and maintain youth provision and the kinds of community centres and facilities that bring different communities together across barriers of age and class as well as race and culture. Above all reverse the effects of the cuts and stimulate local employment initiatives and open them up to all.

Blunkett is right about one thing. Central Government has failed to take any positive interest in sorting out issues in areas like Page Hall. Blunkett acknowledges that  progress was being made by community groups to improve integration in Page Hall but  he stresses that the government's decision to axe Labour's Migration Impact Fund - a £50m pot for councils to ease pressure on local services has hampered these efforts. He also points out that the Government’s underestimate of the numbers of Roma in the area was preventing it from accessing EU funds designed to aid integration.

Sylvia Ingmire, chief executive of the Roma Support Group charity has backed Blunkett's call for the restoration of government funds to boost local services in areas affected by high immigration - but she also stresses the reasons why Roma families chose to settle in the UK: "With the growth of state harassment and neo-Nazi violence in East/Central Europe, Roma families have settled in the UK, contributing economically and culturally.”

As Gary Younge says “slandering Britain’s Roma isn’t courageous. It’s racist”.