Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Thursday, 26 May 2011 07:18 UK

Oldham riots: What has changed 10 years on?

The Oldham riots were blamed on the communities living separate lives

By Catrin Nye
BBC Newsnight and Asian Network

Tensions remain between white and Asian communities in a Greater Manchester town 10 years after riots there, and some predict more conflict ahead.

The Oldham riots had been coming for months, according to those who remember them.

The town was engulfed by three days of running battles between police and members of its Asian community, which erupted on May 26, 2001.

The disturbances were later blamed on the communities living entirely separate or "parallel" lives.

Dozens of men were locked up for their part in the riots.

One of them was Noor Miah, who was 20 at the time.

"It completely destroyed me. It's taken four years of my life that I'll never get back," he said.

Mr Miah believes that Asians received harsher sentences than white people

He was the first to be dealt with by the courts and received a four-and-a-half year sentence.

He still swears he did nothing more than get caught up in a rioting crowd and was arrested within minutes.

"During that four years I could have done a lot of things. I'm 30, I have got nothing, simply because of that moment in life," he said.

Mr Miah lives in a close-knit Bangladeshi community in one part of Oldham. There are no white families there, they left long ago.

Ten years on Mr Miah admits it would be nicer if it were more mixed. The emergence of groups like the English Defence League in the area make him nervous.

"There are a lot of up and coming young guys with testosterone flying about. It will cause another riot. I really hope the police don't allow that again. It will destroy a lot more lives if it happens again," he said.

Steven Rhodes, who was 28 at the time, remembered the months leading up to the riots.

"The more and more Asians got in to Oldham, the more threatening they became," he said.

We met him and his friends, the same BNP-linked crowd he was with on one of the days of the riots, at a pub on the outskirts of Oldham.

Mr Rhodes says Asians get new schools and houses while white areas remain deprived

Grainy police footage taken that day showed the group in Oldham town centre drinking and chanting, "We're white and we're proud of it", and being searched by police officers.

"White people were getting attacked just for the colour of their skin, we felt like the police were doing nothing about it," Mr Rhodes said.

He said they heard of some trouble in Glodwick, an area with a large Pakistani population and the centre of the riots.

They headed there, armed with iron bars and sticks, to offer protection.

"It's going to go again, definitely, it's got worse," he said.

"Since the riots they've (the Asian community) been getting everything, the new houses, the new schools. Nothing is happening in the white area, it's deprived."

There has and always will be debate about what caused the riots.

Official reports blamed "deep-rooted" segregation, others blamed poor policing and deprivation.

But there have been real efforts to increase integration, initiatives like the merging of Oldham's most ethnically-segregated secondary schools, a story BBC Asian Network and Newsnight have been following since June 2010.

You don't get race-mixing here like in other towns. We're just terrorists or drug dealers to them

The merger has faced accusations of "forced mixing" at every stage but has been pushed forward by the local authority. It has been described as the "bold move" a town like Oldham needs.

Local priest Father Phil Sumner said the fragmentation of the white community in Oldham meant people could often be harder to reach.

"A lot of the young white community don't go to their churches anymore, whereas the Muslim community still do go to their mosques," he said.

The common sentiment that has lingered in Oldham seems to be "Why should we mix?"

Following the riots it was said that "sticking to your own kind" was not an option for a cohesive society, but offensive as it may be, some argued it worked.

Tariq Rafique grew up in Oldham, and went to a mixed school when the town's Asian community was fairly small.

Tariq Rafique
Tariq Rafique said people could not be forced to live together

Mr Rafique was right in the middle of the riots 10 years ago, though he emphasised he was not actually involved in rioting. He now heads Oldham's race equality partnership.

"I think it's the way people choose to live. You can't force people to live together," he said.

"I think if you ask the people living in Glodwick (an Asian area) 'are you happy with the way you're living?' I think they would say yes, because their resources might be close by and their extended family might be close by.

"If you ask the people in Limeside or Hollingwood, white areas - they probably would say yes we are happy too," he said.

"You can't say since 2001 there's been no integration, there has been minimal integration but not at the pace there should have been."

Some call it functioning segregation, others a result of "failed" multi-culturalism.

"They treat dogs better than us," said 23-year-old British Pakistani Ehsan of Oldham's white population.

"Oldham is racist, full stop. You don't get race-mixing here like in other towns. We're just terrorists or drug dealers to them."

But the prejudice is two-way. Ehsan and his friends told me the white population had no respect for family, particularly their mothers.

Oldham is a multicultural town. But for all the work that has gone on, it still seems that many people prefer their own culture.

Listen to The Oldham Riots: 10 Years on at 1800 GMT on Thursday 26th May 2011 on BBC Asian Network , then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

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