Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Rotherham to Slovakia and back

Roma Slovak in Rotherham
Image caption An estimated 3,700 Roma people live in Rotherham, according to the council

BBC Inside Out reporter Kate Bradbrook travelled from Rotherham to Slovakia to meet the people desperate to move to Yorkshire, to escape grinding poverty and overcrowded conditions in their home country.

Among the terraced streets and suburban sprawl of Ferham, a suburb of Rotherham, there is a growing population of Roma Slovak migrants.

It is a similar picture in the Page Hall area of Sheffield, and in Hexthorpe just outside Doncaster.

Many adapt well to their new home, but others - according to residents -bring with them behaviours which are often unacceptable to their neighbours.

Making noise late at night as they gather "socially" on the streets after dark, and leaving piles of litter on the pavements are two common complaints.

Peter Kotlar is originally from Slovakia but has lived in the UK for more than 10 years. He works as a Special Constable in Ferham along with his Rotherham-born colleague Joe Tapley. Theirs is a unique partnership, utilising Peter's Roma and Slovak language skills, and Joe's life-long knowledge of the town.

Image caption Peter Kotlar and Joe Tapley work as Special Constables in South Yorkshire

Peter is taking Joe on a journey back to the village where he grew up, in Pavlovce nad Uhom, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian border.

It will be far more than just a holiday, as Joe will see where many Roma now living in Rotherham have come from.

We fly to Kosice, and drive to the Michelovce province, an hour away. One of the first things we notice is the breathtaking scenery, mountains, lakes and pretty churches.

It is only when we drive deeper into Peter's homeland that we begin to understand that the Roma people often live in separate, segregated townships.

Image caption Roma people in Slovakia often live in segregated townships

Peter's family are relatively wealthy compared to many of their neighbours. His grandparents' house is large and well-decorated.

A few houses away, people live a much more primitive existence, in buildings lacking windows and doors, and with no electricity or water. It's a big shock for me but also for Joe.

One family allowed us to film inside their home.

Ten people shared two small rooms, sleeping on sofas and floors and collecting their water from a well outside.

Some of the children and adults appeared to have medical problems, such as eye infections.

Image caption Ten people shared two small rooms in one house in Pavlovce nad Uhom

They told us they struggled to make ends meet as it was difficult to find work because of racial discrimination, due to their Roma background.

Many of their neighbours have already moved to South Yorkshire to give their children a "better" life. They only return home during the summer holidays. Many more, they told us, hope to follow them in the future.

While we were inside Peter's grandparents' house, neighbours gathered on the street.

It is part of the "outdoor" culture for the Roma, Peter told us - a way of socialising with friends and family.

I asked his views on the same behaviour in South Yorkshire, and Peter agreed it sometimes causes tensions.

Image caption Many Roma people socialise on the street with friends and family

We also visited an area covered in litter, a makeshift "tip". According to Peter, there are no waste collections in Pavlovce nad Uhom.

It is a common complaint back at home, and Peter conceded it was "lazy" and shouldn't happen either in Slovakia or in Britain.

He blamed a lack of education and a lack of understanding - something he is trying to change back in Rotherham through working with the Roma communities.

Image caption Slovakia is home to breathtaking scenery and "abject poverty"

Slovakia it seems is a country of extremes - stunning natural beauty juxtaposed with abject poverty.

It was a lot to take in, in a short space of time.

But learning where the Roma people in Yorkshire have come from and how they live in Slovakia will no doubt be put to good use as Joe and Peter continue to police the Rotherham suburbs.

See Kate Bradbrook's report from Slovakia on Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Monday 8 September, 19:30 BBC One.

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