They gather on the streets after dusk, ‘making noise, dropping litter and being a nuisance’.
But the ever-expanding Roma community don’t understand what the fuss is about. Hanging around outside in the evening is part of their cultural tradition back home in eastern Europe.
But to former Home Secretary and Sheffield MP David Blunkett and the residents of Page Hall in Sheffield, it’s a serious problem that is damaging the quality of life in a once peaceful community.
The residents are ‘angry’ and want the streets cleared.
Racial tension and fear of civil unrest is growing, and to make matters worse there are the first signs of vigilante action against the new Roma arrivals.
Some residents with strong views about their unwanted neighbours have begun patrolling the streets at night to ‘gather evidence’ of anti-social behaviour and possible criminal activity.
In addition, the local Pakistani community association is running ‘official’ warden patrols between 8pm and 10pm every weekday with the intention of ‘educating’ the Roma population about ‘how to behave in England’.
Several volunteers wearing luminous jackets accompany a Slovakian community worker who can speak their language, and politely tell the groups of men, women and children to go back indoors, pick up their litter and stop making a disturbance.
An official ‘dispersal order’ has also been in place in recent months, giving police power to break-up street gatherings in Page Hall if they may cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress.’ But so far there are few signs of the issue being resolved.
Julie Blacker is a ‘community cohesion worker’ employed by the Police Commissioner who set up a new neighbourhood watch scheme this summer.
She admitted there had been ‘tension and frustration’ in the community about the Roma issue, with some people becoming ‘very outspoken’ about the authorities’ failure to deal with it.
‘I’m sure people are very cross,’ she said. ‘They see the area has been hit hard by the EU opening its doors and this area has been swamped a bit. There’s no doubt people are upset about it.’
The Roma population in Sheffield is said to be between 2,000 and 4,000 and growing. More than 1,000 Roma patients are registered to two GP practices alone.
Gulnaz Hussain, of the Pakistani Community Advice Centre, is heading the ‘crackdown’ to tackle the street problem and launched the warden patrols three months ago.
She has also arranged weekly litter patrols by volunteers.
She said: ‘The residential streets here are narrow and can get quite full up when they gather outside.
‘You get groups of people making a noise on what used to be quiet streets and it causes a problem.
‘The general public have had enough and feel something must be done. We are working to try and integrate the Romas into the community and our way of life here. That’s the best way forward.’
The problem was difficult because the Roma families are not doing anything illegal or criminal by talking in the street, she added.
Councillor Ibrar Hussain, who represents the area on the city council, said: ‘People here have been very patient and very tolerant. But there is tension in the community.’
Yesterday Roma families were wandering the streets around Page Hall, many children of school-age among them.
None of the adults admitted to speaking English.
For the time being the problem appears to be under control.
As the cold winter nights set in, fewer people have been gathering outside. But with many more Roma people likely to arrive in Page Hall in the months to come, it could be a very different story next summer.
LABOUR’S ‘SPECTACULAR MISTAKE’ ON IMMIGRATION
Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has admitted that throwing open Britain’s borders to Eastern European migrants was a ‘spectacular mistake’.
Mr Straw said Labour’s 2004 decision to hand immediate working rights to Poles and migrants from other new EU states was a ‘well-intentioned policy we messed up’.
David Blunkett’s warning that the influx of Roma migrants into Britain risked causing riots reinforced the significance of Mr Straw’s admission.
Mr Straw said Labour failed to anticipate the scale of migration when eight former Soviet bloc nations became EU members, and Britain – almost alone in Europe – allowed the free movement of workers between countries.
At the time, the Government predicted up to 13,000 migrants would come to Britain each year. The actual total over nearly a decade was more than a million.
Virtually every other EU state, apart from Ireland and Sweden, kept their jobs markets closed for the seven years permitted.
In an article for the Lancashire Telegraph, Mr Straw – who is MP for Blackburn – admitted the forecasts were ‘worthless’.
Mr Straw said: ‘One spectacular mistake in which I participated (not alone) was in lifting the transitional restrictions on the Eastern European states like Poland and Hungary which joined the EU in mid-2004.
‘Other existing EU members, notably France and Germany, decided to stick to the general rule which prevented migrants from these new states from working until 2011.
‘But we thought that it would be good for Britain if these folk could come and work here from 2004.
‘Thorough research by the Home Office suggested that the impact of this benevolence would in any event be “relatively small, at between 5,000 and 13,000 immigrants per year up to 2010”. Events proved these forecasts worthless.
‘Net migration reached close to a quarter of a million at its peak in 2010. Lots of red faces, mine included.’
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