Monday, November 18, 2013

Pakis and Roma in Sheffield: 'When it goes off, it will be like an atom bomb here’

A curfew is in place on the streets of Sheffield, but nobody appears to be paying much attention. It is past 9pm, the designated time when, since August, gangs of under-16s are banned from being out in the city’s Page Hall area. A police van trundles past
“You! How old are you? Time to go home now,” says an officer pointing out of the window at a large group of youths clearly in their early teens. The children laugh and scatter into the alleys, before appearing back behind the van further up the one-way road. They resume their play: shouting, smoking, fighting, practising backflips against the walls of houses and kicking the ubiquitous piles of rubbish. Basharat Ali watches wearily from his doorstep. Tonight, the 26-year-old says, is a quiet night
“At least in the winter they go home at some point,” says Ali, a team manager at the phone company EE who lives with his wife and 18-month-old daughter. “In the summer they were having parties all night, young children dancing in the street. We would have to go out at 11pm to try and move them away. Every night it was the same”

Turd World-like street scene from vibrant Sheffield, England

Their home, he says, has been burgled three times in the past three months. On the first occasion the burglars kicked down his front door at 2am and stole his car keys. The other two times they smashed a back window stealing cash and a laptop. The police are investigating, but it is clear where he feels the blame lies. And he is not alone
The spectre of the race riots that blighted the North 12 years ago has this week reappeared over the narrow terraced streets of Page Hall, the former estate of 19th-century magnate Mark Firth, one of the kings of this steel city. David Blunkett, a former Labour home secretary and MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, has warned that the antisocial behaviour of the thousands of Roma (aka gypsies) migrants who have moved here has resulted in “understandable tensions”. If the gypsies do not change their ways, it is feared, the community could “explode” as Bradford, Oldham and Burnley did in the summer of 2001
The riots (one night of violence in Bradford left 326 police injured and caused £11 million of damage) left lasting scars. To invoke their memory is a sign of how serious the situation has become. On Thursday, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Sheffield Hallam, warned Roma communities they must avoid “intimidating” locals and be “sensitive to the way life is lived in this country”

Slovakian Roma community in Page Hall, Sheffield: The Page Hall Roma come from a clutch of four or five towns and villages in eastern Slovakia

But on the streets of Page Hall – the second most deprived part of the city – there are few signs of that. Battle lines are being drawn between the Roma (the city council says 1,500 Roma children live in Sheffield but do not know the exact number of adults) and the locals – predominantly Paki families who arrived to work in the mills in the 1950s and have laid down roots among the post-industrial rubble
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 Paki and white community, with each blaming the other for fuelling drugs, prostitution, and the increase of rubbish. There have been numerous reported fights. One Paki shopkeeper’s wife had her hand broken in a recent altercation with Roma youths. “It is all over now,” her husband says
After dark on Hinde Street, the centre of the area where the Roma live, a furious Paki man runs out of his house screaming at the children who have been pelting his walls with a blue Manchester City football. He grabs the ball, and leads me inside

Roma family in Page Hall, Sheffield

On the television in the living room, his 34-year-old wife and four young children silently watch footage from CCTV cameras positioned outside their modest home. “We have four cameras,” says the 36-year-old baker, who does not want his family named. “A lot of our neighbours do as well. Every day it is the same. We regret ever buying a house here. It cost £50,000; it was all we could afford. I’m always ringing the police but if they come the children just go and hide in the alleyways. We just want one quiet night”
A report published last month estimated that there are 200,000 Roma in Britain; in 2011 the Government claimed that “relatively few” had settled here. The Page Hall Roma come from a clutch of four or five towns and villages in eastern Slovakia. They started arriving after Britain opened its borders to EU migrants in 2004, something which Jack Straw, another former Labour home secretary, admitted this week had been a “spectacular mistake”
Whole extended families have moved over, fleeing from the prejudice and hostility to which Europe’s estimated 10 million Roma have long been subjected. They are also attracted by Page Hall’s cheap rents (£400-£500 a month)
One landlord, who has Roma families in two properties, tells me they are excellent tenants, but says other landlords cram several families into small two-up, two-down terraced homes where “seven or eight children” end up sleeping on the carpet

Page Hall Roma
News report here. See also here and here. Interesting dynamic. The Paki residents will not be cowed by PC talk, used so successfully against ethnic English.

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