‘Scaremongering’: Blunkett faces backlash after anti-Roma comments

David Blunkett is guilty of whipping up resentment toward Roma community in the UK, campaigners have said.

The comments follow an extraordinary outburst yesterday in which the former home secretary warned his local radio station there would be "an explosion" if Roma communities did not integrate.

"We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that," he told BBC Radio Sheffield.

"If everything exploded, if things went really wrong, the community would obviously be devastated. We saw this in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became home secretary. We saw that the community itself were the losers."

The Sheffield Brightside MP said the community had to change aspects of its behaviour, such as congregating on the streets on summer evenings and dropping litter.

"We've got to be tough and robust in saying to people you are not in a downtrodden village or woodland, because many of them don't even live in areas where there are toilets or refuse collection facilities," he added.

"You are not there anymore, you are here – and you've got to adhere to our standards, and to our way of behaving, and if you do then you'll get a welcome and people will support you."

The comments outraged equality campaigners and representatives of the Roma community.

Colin Clark, professor of sociology and social policy at the University of the West of Scotland, who works closely with the Roma community, said Blunkett was guilty of "scaremongering".

He told Politics.co.uk: "I think everyone was waiting for this type of comment to come out. The only surprise is that it wasn't Nigel Farage.

"I'd like to think his comments will be ignored and people will just move on and disregard them. His continual use of the words 'explosion' and 'riots' is not helpful in addressing the issues at stake.

"We need people who want to make things better rather than scaremongering and issuing warnings."

The comments come amid an increasingly ugly anti-Roma atmosphere in Europe.

France expelled thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma in 2010, ostensibly as part of a crack-down on illegal camps.

In Hungary and the Czech Republic there have been increased instances of firebombing, shooting, stabbing, beating and other acts of violence towards the Roma community.

"Migrant Voice is concerned by this ratcheting up of rhetoric regarding Roma and especially the use of language like 'riots' and 'explosions'," Anne Stoltenberg of Migrant Voice told Politics.co.uk.

"We agree more support and resource is needed for integration but this intervention – on top of a summer and autumn of migrant scapegoating especially targeting the Roma – needs to stop.

"Our Roma members are hugely frustrated at the continual demonisation and misprepresentation that affects them and their families on a daily basis, as they try to get on with their lives in the UK."

Fotis Filippou, Amnesty regional campaign coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, told Politics.co.uk: "Roma across Europe are being pushed to the margins of society as a result of forced evictions; they are attacked on ethnic basis, used as a scapegoat for wider societal problems, denied access to education and basic rights.

"The language used by media outlets across the region when reporting stories on Roma and the stereotyping rhetoric often used by politicians and public figures could have serious repercussions for the Roma all over Europe. It may further fuel the already existing prejudices against them and lead to stigmatisation and discrimination.

"Amnesty International calls on national and European authorities and media outlets to refrain from intentionally or unintentionally targeting Roma as an ethnic minority – and creating the perception in doing so that ethnicity can be linked to criminality – this is directly and unambiguously discriminatory, the effects of which could be disastrous."

A spokesperson for the Migrant Rights Network commented: "It's a shame that this particular description of local integration challenges has further polarised opinions and raised public fears about EU migration.

"We do agree that the government should show commitment to support local newcomers, but this was a missed the opportunity to hold the government accountable and demand real action."

Blunkett's comments were backed by Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

"Mr Blunkett should be admired for the courage he has shown by speaking so plainly on this issue. Of course, the type of language he has used I would have been utterly condemned for using," he said.

"The fact that he is talking of the significant difficulties with the Roma population already in his constituency should be taken seriously by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

"My question is if they won't listen to the dangers of opening the door to Romania and Bulgaria next year when UKIP speak out on it, will they listen to David Blunkett? I certainly hope so."

Blunkett later issued a statement distancing himself from Farage's endorsement.