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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
MP in race row over crime
Ealing Southall Labour MP Piara Khabra
Piara Khabra says his constituents are fed up
A west London MP is under fire for claiming African refugees in his area are behind a crime wave which has fuelled tension with the Asian population.

Ealing Southall Labour MP Piara Khabra told the BBC his Asian constituents believe Somali youths are to blame for a rise in street robberies.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Khabra warned residents would start taking the law into their own hands if more was not done to reduce crime.

But Somali activists say it is their community that is being victimised by some Asians who are trying to drive them out of the area.

Street crime in the borough of Ealing rose from 24 in January to 190 in July.


It sickens me that these flames of prejudice are being stoked by members of parliament

Suresh Grover

Mr Khabra said: "There's a perception in the community that crime is being committed by the Somalis, those who came to settle in Southall particularly, I have been told, the youngsters."

He said his constituents were fed up and needed officers to do more to tackle the problems.

"If they do not, I think the community has every right to organise to protect themselves," he said.

Community 'victimised'

But Suresh Grover, of the Southall monitoring group, an organisation which seeks to record racially motivated incidents, criticised Mr Khabra for "stoking the flames of prejudice".

He said: "I have lived and worked in Southall for 35 years. A large number of my clients are Somali people.

"They are a marginalized, victimised community in Southall.

"It sickens me that these flames of prejudice are being stoked by members of parliament and individuals who are using the figures on race crimes to victimise a community that should be welcomed."

There have been reports of gang fights between Asian and Somali youths.

Gang crime

But police say much gang-related crime is never reported to them and they are not aware of any serious racial tension in the area.

Ealing Police said it was not appropriate to comment on one person's views, but officers do not believe Somali youths are to blame for the majority of street robberies.

They say that last month's figures show a drop in the number of such crimes.

They believe some of the rise can be attributed to people reporting their mobile phones stolen in order to get a better phone from their company.

Diverse suburb

Southall has long been known as one of the most culturally diverse suburbs of London with the first Sikh temple there opening in 1957.

Most of the early immigrants in the 1950s were Sikh men from Punjab. Others came from Pakistan and the Caribbean.

By the 1960s their families were coming to join them and it became a major market place for Asian food and clothes.

The arrival of Kenyan and Ugandan Asians from the late 1960s also helped transform the area into a major centre for Asians in London.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Naresh Puri reports from Southall
"Gang members from both sides refuse to report any attacks"

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06 Sep 01 | UK
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