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Roma and the riots in England

London, 11.8.2011 18:28, (ROMEA)

The riots in England have been awful for everyone inadvertently caught up in them and distressing for all of us wishing to live in a peaceful, harmonious and inclusive society.

However bad it has been for those of us with full access to information and news, and most of us live far enough away to be safe and are still able to get on with our everyday lives, it has been far worse for those people whose homes are in areas that have been turned into virtual war zones.

The majority of the Roma living here in England are in exactly this position. They live in areas like Handsworth, Tottenham, East Ham, Brixton, Ealing, Walthamstow, Croydon, Salford and so on. Many of them do not have ready access to the news bulletins and messages that have been broadcast or the language skills to fully understand what is happening.

When the trouble first blew up at the weekend in Tottenham; quite literally on the doorsteps of the Romanian Roma community, they thought terrorists had attacked North London and that bombs were going off in the streets around them. They did not understand the police loudhailer messages to keep off the streets and did not get the warnings to stay inside and keep their children with them.

Neither did they understand the instructions given to some of them to evacuate their homes when fires were spreading, nor the irritation of the fire officers and police when they were found not to have done so. In such frightening and unusual conditions you realise that they were at a loss to know who to ask for help or an explanation.

One Roma told me when he rang at 2am that he thought every police officer in England was in Tottenham High Road that evening!

Although the situation now appears to be returning to some kind of normality there is still a need to keep the Roma communities informed about what has, or is likely to happen, and what they can do to protect themselves and their families and to keep their young people away from the temptation of getting involved themselves. So far only two Roma have been seen to take part in the violence and looting, both of them in London.

So a plea from us: if you are working or living near Roma families please take the time to talk to them about what is happening on the streets in your area, offer reassurance and advice and pass on any vital information that is coming from the authorities so that they can understand what is happening around them and can then take steps to keep themselves and their homes safe.

Our advice to Roma families:

Don’t go out alone at night,

Don’t let your young people out in the evening for the next days, until the situation is completely calm,

Tell your kids what is happening and why they must stay out of it,

Don’t go and watch and take pictures, you may get caught up in things,

Don’t be tempted to take goods from shops that may have been broken into,

If you have problems call the police or ask for advice from one of us!

Keep safe.

Heather Ureche, Equality - a registered charity in England and Wales
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