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EDITIONS
Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Wrexham disturbances
Police in Wrexham
For the first time this week the Welsh town of Wrexham was having an evening free from violence involving Iraqi refugees, locals and police.

The trouble the police claim is criminal rather than racial. Although it has involved stone-throwing and petrol bombs, the police are also saying it does not add up to rioting.

We sent Richard Watson there, to see what he could find out.


RICHARD WATSON:
This is the Caia Park Estate, one of the poorest in the Welsh border town of Wrexham. Locals say it's been dogged by drugs and crime, but unemployment is low and recently things have been getting better, with a number of community support projects, funded by the council. But tensions have been rising and the scale of the riots over the past two nights has shocked locals and politicians alike.

ALED ROBERTS:
(MAYOR OF WREXHAM)

It is a shock. Our hope is that this is just a minor hiccup - a minor setback in our plans. What we have to do is listen to people and their grievances and to make sure that we act upon those grievances.

WATSON:
It all started here at the local pub, with the dispute between an Iraqi Kurd who had been dating a Wrexham girl and some of the locals. There were reports of some racist abuse and some stone-throwing. The following night there were violent clashes between locals and the police. Nine arrests were made and a crowd of more than 100 fought with sticks, even petrol bombs were thrown.

UNNAMED WOMAN:
He had a knife in his hand. He run over with the lads over there. The next minute, I saw there were two with knives coming across the path, one was right by me. I jumped in the bloody garden over there. I was terrified, I was. I was shaking.

WATSON:
Walking around the estate, feelings were running high.

UNNAMED MAN:
They get free NHS and jobs. I haven't got a job. They took the jobs, they will take slave labour money, where I am looking for minimum wage. But I can't get a job as they've taken it.

WATSON:
So a lot of anger?

UNNAMED MAN:
Yeah, there is. I wouldn't cause it myself, but I would join in.

UNNAMED MAN:
They've come here, all grouped together. You know what I mean. There are loads in the flats over there, they're full of them. They have got their own community. They think they can waltz around doing anything they want. It's not going to happen. It's not right.

UNNAMED MAN:
This won't stop until the Iraqis are out.

WATSON:
All the refugees have now fled the estate. Some have gone into hiding in cities as far away as Birmingham. But we contacted a small group who agreed to meet us today to tell us about life in Wrexham and how a local argument turned into a riot. We were told by Iraqi Kurds that one of their friends was still in intensive care and was almost killed. These Kurds, who are all working and paying taxes, fled life under Saddam Hussein. They argue that in Wrexham they just wanted to lead peaceful lives.

UNNAMED MAN:
I can't stay here. There are too many.

WATSON:
So you were an asylum seeker, now you're a refugee from Iraq, but now you're a refugee from Wrexham?

UNNAMED MAN:
Yes, a refugee from Wrexham. So I want to move.

WATSON:
The newly-appointed mayor from Wrexham was lobbied by youngsters as he arrived today.

ALED ROBERTS:
There's probably about, at the most, 30 of these people in a population of 12,500.

WATSON:
The mayor says that community relations have been reasonably good, but the issue of housing may need to be addressed.

ALED ROBERTS:
There may be an issue on housing that we have to address. The reality of the situation is that these are, in the main, young men. They are dealt with on our housing list in exactly the same way as others, they have few housing points. The reality is, if they present themselves as homeless, the easiest thing for the housing authority is to put them into hard-to-let accommodation. That's a problem, not for Caia Park Estate, but for us as a housing authority and a problem that faces most housing authorities in the UK.

WATSON:
As elsewhere in Britain, local people perceive that the refugees get all the help.

UNNAMED WOMAN:
Because they're in special need, because they are vulnerable, because we have an avenue to help them and people are willing to help. They get furniture, clothes, food. They are identified as a sector in need. Wrexham has that kind of tradition.

WATSON:
Community leaders stress that Wrexham has had good race relations in the past. But now, following two nights of violence, the refugees no longer believe they are safe in the town.

ZAHID NOOR:
(WELSH REFUGEE COUNCIL)

As a result of the situation since Sunday, where refugees are willing to go back, some have returned, others are unwilling to return and genuinely feel petrified; that if they returned, their lives would be at risk on the estate. Obviously, them being refugees with the UK providing them with protection, it obviously raises a number of issues if people fleeing from Saddam Hussein's regime are feeling just as persecuted in this country.

WATSON:
But just as we were finishing the interview, a couple of boy racers swung around the corner shouting racist abuse at our interviewee, pointing their hands in a pretend gun gesture and shouting, "in your head."

ZAHID NOOR:
I have been to Wrexham many times. This is really the first time I have heard such racist abuse. I think it's a result of tensions that are rising because of the events that have just taken place.

WATSON:
The lesson from Wrexham seems to be that members of racism in Britain are glowing dully, but can be rekindled by something as simple as a local spat. As the long days of summer stretch ahead, that is food for thought for the Government.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Richard Watson
reported from Wrexham: were the disturbances there really the consequence of a failing immigration policy?
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.


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