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The other day, I watched a BBC documentary entitled ‘Police Under Pressure: Uneasy Peace’ which documented the escalating tensions between the settled communities of Page Hall in Sheffield, and the thousands of Slovakian Roma who have arrived in the area over recent years.

I was already passingly familiar with the issue. The situation has enjoyed a national prominence ever since it was mentioned by (now retired) MP David Blunkett, who famously warned that ‘riots’ are a possible consequence if the government fails to address local concerns. Though he was roundly criticised for ‘scaremongering’, the documentary (if it is to be believed) demonstrates that his concerns were and are well founded.

The Page Hall district of Sheffield has traditionally been divided between White Britons and British born Pakistanis. The Roma were added to this stew only recently and have quickly become unpopular with both locals and police. 

So controversial has their behaviour been in fact, that they have pressed together the Pakistanis and Whites into a strange and very untypical alliance. Reflecting this, the documentary featured many instances of Pakistanis adopting the language of the indigenous far-right. “I’ve got more rights (than them). I was born here. British born and bred. I’m proud of it.” one Asian male barked to police officers after a night of low-level disorder. Another compared the Slovakians to ‘rats’, while another predicted ‘World War 3’ if the police failed to disperse the crowds of Roma children playing on their street at night.

In case you should doubt the scale of what we’re talking about, here (unbelievably) is the Guardian:

“Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council’s best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city… Though the migrants come and go, the flow is predominantly in one direction. Three buses run by Interbus make the 30-hour journey overland from Slovakia to Sheffield each week but just two go back in the other direction.”

The right-wing press has spoken (as one might expect) rather more frankly. Joe Shute in the Telegraph described the situation as follows:

“The atmosphere is poisonous, a breeding ground for trouble. Roma youths and adults hang around in groups, dozens at a time throughout the day and night. Rumours swirl between them and the Pakistani and white community, with each blaming the other for fuelling drugs, prostitution, and the increase of rubbish. There have been numerous reported fights. One Pakistani shopkeeper’s wife had her hand broken in a recent altercation with Roma youths… The community feels at breaking point. “When it goes off, it will be like an atom bomb here,” a shopkeeper warns as he picks up a broken glass bottle from the street. A group of Roma youths swagger past. Nobody looks anybody in the eye.”

To further complicate this stand-off, the documentary later featured a march by the English Defence League – ostensibly about the conversion of a local pub into a mosque (embarrassingly for the EDL, it was later decided to convert the building into a KFC) – but more likely held to protest the Islamisation of the area in general. The march was planned to kettle at the border of a mixed Muslim-White area of the district. Frustratingly, the position of the EDL in regard to the Roma population was never investigated.

As a phenomenon, this is broader than England of course. The Romani (or ‘Gypsy’) community are becoming a heated topic of debate across Europe. In the larger Spanish cities, tensions arising from Romani immigration have been markedly severe. France meanwhile is still convulsing from a national scandal involving the beating to death by vigilantes of a Romani teenager suspected of burglary.

I can’t say I’m wholly innocent of the ill-feeling either. Like most Londoners, it has become almost second nature to me to avoid cashpoints whenever there are unaccompanied brown children nearby.

But talking about Romani immigration is naturally far more difficult than discussing the obvious disadvantages of Muslim settlement. Given the revolting treatment of Romani Europeans in World War II, one will always run the risk of unknowingly quoting Heinrich Himmler.

As to Page Hall specifically – and though they might be enjoying themselves immensely – I would also warn the Muslim community to refrain from using terms like ‘rats’ and ‘World War III’. An occasion may come for these words, but it’s unlikely to involve Slovakians.

D, LDN.

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