In Govanhill, in Glasgow, the besmirching of another immigrant community is in full spate. A century ago, it was the poor Irish, fleeing famine and persecution by the British government, who were being demonised. Now it’s the turn of the Roma people.
Britain’s largest concentration of Roma families resides in Glasgow, where they began to settle in numbers following the 2004 expansion of the EU.
The Roma community, mainly from Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, were among those who took advantage of free movement. They are a travelling people and are among the world’s most persecuted minorities. They have always provided an easy target for the hard right in any country where they settle. When widespread social inequality prevails, the presence of any minority provides an opportunity for reactionaries to camouflage its real causes.
The Irish immigrants were depicted as unclean, savage and given to base desires; they were regarded as something less than human. Later, Glasgow became home to thousands of Asian families. They, too, encountered discrimination, but the sullen resentment soon gave way to acceptance.
Glasgow’s Roma community in Govanhill are a people accustomed to living on the margins of society and wearily familiar with the loathing that accompanies them on their travels. This has bred in them a suspicion and resentment of authority and a spirit of stubborn self-reliance. As such, many of their children pass into adulthood without anything resembling a formal education.
In recent weeks, the Roma have been subject to a newspaper report short on fact and heavy on insinuation claimed that there was widespread evidence of Roma families selling their children into prostitution. The lurid tales fed on unsubstantiated claims from nameless individuals that have been whispered in the area for a decade or so. The police and Glasgow city council have been aware of these claims, too, but insist that they have never received any information worthy of investigation. The shocking child sex abuse claims sit at the apex of a collection of social evils, steadily escalating by degrees of luridness, which have been blamed on the Roma. These range from tenement backcourts being deployed as fly-tipping areas to tales of a crime wave caused by rampaging Roma youth.
The recent child sex abuse claims also require some scrutiny. Some of the responses accompanying stories about the Roma are utterly devoid of any compassion and replete with the language of Ukip and Britain First. This led police chiefs to warn some about the “need to be very careful about the language they are using”. Much of the outrage purports to be concerned about issues of child welfare and a sudden burst of compassion for “our own poor”, where none existed before. It ignores the fact of child welfare issues in the indigenous white communities in other parts of the city. Certainly, the claims of child sex abuse, no matter how threadbare, need to be investigated. Let’s just hope that these are not merely being used to mask something sinister. And if true that such allegations of child exploitation have existed for a decade, we need to ask whether Roma children were afforded the same protection and resources as offered to non-Roma children. Why have people been willing to pass these stories around the community for at least 10 years now without any concerted effort to get the police or social workers involved?
For further reading on the persecution of the Roma read the Socialist Standard