Ewan KingMany are worried about the influx of immigrants for the stress this might put on communities and because of the perceived difficulty in integrating them. However, there is now a body of evidence about some of the strategies that can serve to break down barriers between newly arrived and more settled communities, reduce mutual misunderstandings, reduce tensions and build bridges between communities, writes Ewan King.

Once again the Roma community have found themselves at the sharp end of a vigorous debate about the impact of mass immigration – and this time it’s taking place a little closer to home than usual. Talk of potential of an explosion of social discord if, as expected, a sizeable number of Roma arrive to live in the UK over the next two years has grown louder in recent weeks. High-profile politicians have predicted unrest and even violence in their constituencies if the Roma are allowed to settle in large numbers. Mixed in with the well-made arguments about the pressures that new arrivals place on hard pressed public services and communities are far more scurrilous articles that suggest the writers have little understanding or empathy for this community. A recent piece in the Big Issue tries to explode some of the myths that abound. And our own research into the needs of this Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Kent has found that that this community faces huge economic, social, health related, and employment hardships.

I do not pretend that there are easy answers to these questions, nor are people’s fears necessarily misplaced. There are legitimate concerns about pressure on public services, such as a shortage of school places, numbers on GP registers, and queues at Accidents and Emergency departments in many parts of the country. In this context any additional demand, whether from new migrants or others, has the potential to be acutely felt in systems that are already working to capacity.

However, this is not the first time that the UK has faced the arrival of newcomers, and in difficult circumstances, found ways to support and integrate them. There is now a body of evidence about some of the strategies that can serve to break down barriers between newly arrived and more settled communities, reduce mutual misunderstandings, reduce tensions and build bridges between communities.

Roma Community

Please don’t let me be misunderstood
(Credit: Arian Selmani)

Strategies that have worked include:

  • Providing the support and tools needed to help newly arrived communities lead and develop their own projects that usefully contribute to improvements to local communities that everyone benefits from
  • Inter-cultural and faith projects that seek to build trust and understanding between communities, such as through cultural exchanges and arts fairs
  • Involving recent migrants in the design and delivery of services that are tailored to their needs – this will help empower the community to find its own solutions and work more closely with established public services and community leaders
  • Outreach projects that educate new communities on how to access health services and use emergency services in the right way, improving their health and reducing the burden on emergency services. For instance our research for the NHS in Kent on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community found that community-based Health Trainers can be effective at accessing the Roma community and encouraging them to improve their health and appropriately use urgent care services.
  • Providing new migrants with advice services concerning conventions and processes in their locality. For example in Manchester initiatives have been put in place that help explain to Roma how to access legal work, recycle rubbish, and avoid being involved in anti-social behaviour.
  • Training community workers from new migrant communities to support the integration of pupils to school and ensure that young people don’t hang around on street corners

Fears about what could happen if community relations break down completely is understandable, but it would be far more useful for those concerned about this to help put in place strategies that will avoid social tensions arising in the first place, and ultimately build a society in which Roma are better integrated.

Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. 

About the Author

Ewan KingEwan King is a Director at OPM, an organisation that helps public services. Ewan leads OPM’s work on reducing extremism, including the government’s Prevent strategy since 2008. He ‘s interested in issues of social cohesion, inter-faith dialogue and building integrated communities. 

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