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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Burnley community leaders quizzed on racial violence
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Police in Burnley, Lancashire, have appealed for calm following four days of street violence which has led to fears of rapidly worsening relations between the town's different ethnic communities.

There have been clashes between groups of white and Asian youths, much as there were in nearby Oldham, just 20 miles away, although police say they do not believe there is any direct link between events in the two towns.

Who is to blame for the riots in Burnley? What could have been done to prevent the violence? What must be done to avoid incidents like this from happening in the future?

Burnley Borough's Labour councillor, Stephen Wolski and Sher Ali Miah, representative of the Bangladeshi Welfare Association, answered your questions in a live forum.



Newshost:

James Duncan McIntosh, Toronto Canada asks: Do you believe the trend of increasing violence is an expression of ethnic tension on (all sides) that just needed an opportunity to explode, or do you believe the violence to be pure racial retaliation.


Stephen Wolski:

I think first of all we have to condemn violence of any kind - there is no excuse for it and no reason for it. The communities have lived together exceptionally peacefully and well for the last 30 years. I believe this was just something that blew up - it was pushed by the BNP to some degree - but drinking, sheer thuggery there is a lot of issues involved and we are setting up a task force to look into that and obviously they will be able to come out with a more accurate view of why this violence exploded. Can I say it was a very, very sad affair because the vast majority of the people in Burnley, both white and Asian, live together peacefully and get on well. There are many, many multi-cultural entertainment nights and gatherings and they go off very well and very peacefully and it is just a very sad for the town.


Newshost:

J Curtain, Swindon, England: It's very worrying that the BNP is currently enjoying more and more seats and it seems that these extra votes are arising from local people's discontent at their own predicaments. Do you think enough is being done in the area to encourage racial integration?



Sher Ali Miah:

I think the council has done a wonderful job during the last few years. As you have heard from Councillor Wolski, Burnley council is in the process of setting up a taskforce. I have spoken to Councillor Stuart Caddy this morning and I have encouraged him that every community ought to be involved in that taskforce and their views and ideas ought to be taken into consideration.


Newshost:
Steven Glenister, London, UK asks: Do you think it is feasible for the United Kingdom to support a multi-lingual administration? Is it not reasonable to expect that, apart from asylum cases, anyone wishing to live and prosper in this country should have, at least, a basic understanding of its native language?



Sher Ali Miah:

Generally in this country, the race relations has been good, apart from a few incidents here and there. I have lived in Burnley since 1974 and I haven't seen any problem whatsoever. You will always get some element of people who will stir things up and I think during the last 12 months, the BNP have been canvassing very hard - sending literature out which says that the ethnic minorities get priority services as far as housing is concerned and a vast amount of money is being spent in Daneshouse. Yes, money has been spent but Burnley managed to obtain 19 million from SRB1 and Councillor Stuart Caddy told us Monday afternoon that only 3 million has been spent on Daneshouse - the rest of the money has been spent in other areas. I understand money needs to be spent in other areas - Burnley has a massive problem as far as housing and deprivation is concerned.


Newshost:

Waseem Mohammed, Oxford asks: After the sheer violence and stupidity which has been portrayed in the streets of Burnley over the last few days. Where does the Burnley council go from here?


Stephen Wolski:

We are obviously going to set up the taskforce to find out the full extent and reasons for the violence. Secondly, we have asked for a senior Government Minister to come up and look at Burnley - not just come and sit and meet a few of us around a table and have a chat about the problems. We want him to come out onto the streets with us and look at the extent of Burnley's problems. It is not just in Burnley, it is in East Lancashire as whole, but Burnley is a typical example of East Lancashire as a town.

We have poor housing - we have 3,000 too many houses - very many of them in a dilapidated state. We have low wages for a lot of people. There is a whole range of things we need to do to start the ball rolling. Obviously we need to spend money - not just in the target areas that have been identified - but in all the areas of Burnley. Every ward has some pocket of deprivation in it and it needs attending to.

It worries me that it is all bad news but there is an awful lot of good news. We are building new industrial estates that are proving to be successful. We are attracting jobs to Burnley - we are beginning to attract quality jobs to Burnley - and we have got to start building on that. More than that, give all the community - that is both Asian and white - the opportunity to reach as far as it can go and achieve as much as it can in their lives.


Newshost:

Nadeem Akhtar, Woking, UK asks: I've been in this country for just 3 months but I am really scared now. Is the situation going to improve or it's just the beginning of a "summer of discontent" in UK?


Stephen Wolski:

I wouldn't even pretend that the problems can be tackled overnight in terms of deprivation. It took a long while to get to this state and there is a lot of historical reasons for that. But the start has been made. A lot of the indications are that things are slowly beginning to pick up. However, there is still an awful lot of work to do and we mustn't lose sight of that. Obviously we need more money to come into the borough to bring the private housing sector up to decent living standards. We need 145 million - which is an awful lot of money - and there is probably many other towns that need that sort of money to bring their housing up to standard.

I stress again - whenever there is violence, people starting feeling fear and depression. I have lived in East Lancashire all my life and I have lived both within the Asian community in Blackburn and I have lived all over East Lancashire and have always felt safe. I feel very sad about this and many of us feel very downhearted about what has happened. But we are going to beat this and obviously it needs help from the Government. I have got to stress that this is a one-off - the communities have lived peacefully together for 30 years. A great deal of what happened was just thuggery and can't be condoned in any shape or form.


Newshost:

Richard N, UK asks: Are you certain that you represent the Asian community's viewpoint given that the rioters are from a younger generation?


Sher Ali Miah:

I think it would be wrong for me to say that I represent the whole Asian community's point of view. In my view, it is a one-off incident and things have calmed down. It is not going to happen overnight. We need to talk to people. I think the council are in the process of setting a system up where we can talk to the white and ethnic minority communities, the youth, the local businesses. The majority of the people who have been severely affected is the local taxi drivers, the local Asian take-aways and restaurants - their businesses have been severely affected.

People are frightened but I would say to you that things are, in my view, under control. We as a community are doing our best to convince the youngsters that violence is not going to get us anywhere. I am very grateful to the Councillor here and Burnley Council as a whole, that they are taking initiatives. In my view, once information has been gathered, we need to share their ideas and get their view and get their confidence in us. That is the only way we will develop a better understanding and live in a peaceful and harmonious way.


Newshost:

David Gray, Alton UK asks: Irrespective of the reasons behind the latest violence, will ALL representatives from both sides condemn it? Whilst all of them continue to blame the other side and give justifiable reasons for their community to defend itself we will never live in harmony ever again.


Sher Ali Miah:

It is a very difficult question. A sensible person will always say that violence is no good - it is doing harm to the whole community. Violence should be condemned all the time. If there is any disagreement or grievance, it needs to be talked over with the relevant authorities and to find a solution. We will only solve problems by talking to each other - violence is not going to get us anywhere in my view.


Stephen Wolski:

I also would condemn violence and I am sure all the councillors have already done that. We will be working very hard to bring the communities together. I must stress yet again that there is no way that violence has ever solved anything. We can't go down that road. We need to talk and look at the problems and we need to then start seeing how we can best solve them. We need to be taking action to solve those problems and not confronting each other on the streets.

Can I say again, it was mainly young people - and I can understand sometimes the frustrations and impatience of the young. Let's not get carried away that this was two communities full of people of all ages charging at each other or fighting - it was mainly young people who were fighting. They have got to be guided and we have a responsibility to do that and to set examples and to show them that violence isn't the way to solve problems and the older people in the community should be working to that end.


Newshost:

H Dr Shaaz Mahboob, Nottingham asks: Has education not become a secondary priority for the Asian community especially in the economically deprived areas like Oldham and Burnley? Is this lack of motivation to succeed not the most important cause of all these disturbances?


Sher Ali Miah:

Generally I would say that education is good in Burnley. As far as the schools are concerned, some of them are in need of repair and some schools are very good as far as environment is concerned. I also believe a vast amount of money needs to be invested. In my view, there is no doubt that there is deprivation, bad housing, poor health - all these factors may have contributed to the riots.


Newshost:

Catherine Evans, Darlington, UK asks: How to you account for the deterioration in race relations among young white and Asian people today, compared to those of the same communities in Burnley one generation ago? What can you do, not only to restore that, but also to build on it for the future?


Sher Ali Miah:

Once upon a time, we did have a race equality council - that is no longer there. I personally believe that some sort of race equality council needs to be brought back and once an officer is appointed that officer would be able to talk to people and I am sure it could be monitored. At present there is no system in place to actually report any racially motivated incidents. I firmly believe we had quite a good understanding when the race equality council used to exist. I have highlighted this to the council. I personally believe it needs to be brought back.


Stephen Wolski:

I think we have got to work very hard now to make sure these young people get the opportunities they deserve. But part of it is their frustration and it is from both communities not having the opportunities that maybe other areas have in terms of jobs and wages.

The average wage in East Lancashire - Burnley - is about 70% or 80% of the national average. There are far too many people on minimum wages. Burnley, to a degree, hasn't had a jobless problem - they have had a low wage problem and it is hidden to a great extent. When I left school there were plenty of jobs and opportunities and the youngsters today aren't getting that. We have been successful with the New Deal and with other schemes but it is bringing in the quality jobs and opportunities and getting Burley to punch its weight - and it is a lot of weight to punch if we all get together and work together.

See also:

26 Jun 01 | UK
Fragile calm in Burnley
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