UK Politics

Roma immigrants must behave sensitively, says Nick Clegg

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Media captionNick Clegg: "It's very concerning when different parts of what should be one community start... acting against other parts of the community"

Nick Clegg has said Roma immigrants have to be "sensitive" to the British "way" of living, after former Home Secretary David Blunkett warned that tensions could lead to race riots.

Mr Blunkett said the Page Hall area of Sheffield could be "devastated" if the situation "exploded".

Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg told LBC it was right to complain about unacceptable behaviour.

But the best way to deal with it was "talking to each other", he added.

However, Professor Yaron Matras, an expert on Roma culture from the University of Manchester, accused Mr Clegg and Mr Blunkett of "ethnic profiling".

Labour MP Mr Blunkett, whose Sheffield Brightside constituency includes the Page Hall area, where Roma migrants from Slovakia have set up home, said earlier this week that rioting could take place unless more effort was made to aid integration.

He also accused the government of "burying their head in the sand" over the scale of settlement in the UK.

'Outspoken'

He called on the Roma community in Page Hall to change aspects of its behaviour, such as congregating on the streets on summer evenings and dumping litter, which he said was "aggravating" local people.

Otherwise, there could be a repeat of the violence which affected some northern English cities in the summer of 2001, he warned.

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Media captionDavid Blunkett: "We've got to get the children into school"

But Liberal Democrat Mr Clegg, whose Sheffield Hallam constituency neighbours Mr Blunkett's, said during his weekly phone-in show on LBC: "Of course I am acutely aware of the tensions. David Blunkett has been very outspoken about it and he has every reason to be concerned as the constituency MP.

"I am not sure, bluntly, if it helps very many people in Page Hall for him to then lurch around saying it is the government's fault and it is all because of the government."

Mr Clegg added: "There is a real dilemma... when you get communities coming into a part of our country and then they behave in a way that people find quite difficult to accept.

"They behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive. I think it is quite right that people should say. And on this, if not many other things, I actually agree with David Blunkett.

"We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country."

He went on: "At the end of the day the solution to these things, whether it is in Page Hall or in Slough, is of course people, human beings, talking to each other across community divides."

But Prof Matras, who has worked on projects aimed at improving relations between Roma people and the wider community in Manchester, accused Mr Blunkett and Mr Clegg of using "medieval stereotypes".

He told the BBC there had been "amazing success" and a "a complete disappearance" of negative images of Roma in Manchester.

Prof Matras added: "There's a very clear correlation. People who meet Roma personally have a positive experience. Those who get their information from indirect sources, such as parts of the media, have negative impressions."

Asked about Mr Blunkett and Mr Clegg's comments about Roma in Sheffield, he said: "Some people stand in groups and talk. In southern Europe that's very common. There's nothing in Roma behaviour that's inherently more offensive or intimidating than for any other group. This is ethnic profiling."

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