Where Ignorance and Fear Fuel Hatred of Asylum-Seekers
Ian Herbert visits Wrexham, scene of riots last June, to begin an Independent series on racial hatred in the UK
Ian Herbert, independent.co.uk, Apr. 12
Dozens of refugees were living on Wrexham’s Caia Park estate before the two nights of rioting that earned the place its notoriety last June. Now the old, white monoculturalism is back; the refugees have all but vanished without trace.
At the Red Dragon pub, the scene of last summer’s battles, a man was set upon a few weeks ago on the mere suspicion of being an Iraqi. “It could just have been that he had a good suntan,” said publican Peter Thomas. “He came back with a police escort to fetch his car.” Mr Thomas has just erased the latest graffiti from his doorway: “Kill the Iraqi bastards,” it read.
Other incidents in this North Wales town over the past six months include the severe beating of a local man by three Kurds, far-right graffiti on the home of a white woman and a black man and an arson attack on a factory employing eastern European workers.
Wrexham’s experience is not unique. The number of race hate crimes forwarded by police to the Crown Prosecution Service jumped 12 per cent to nearly 4,200 last year, according to figures released last week. But here, beyond the view of Westminster, is a microcosm of Britain’s racial intolerance. Fuelled by the fear of terrorism, it threatens to make asylum Labour’s most debilitating issue in the 2005 election.
To the despair of Wrexham Borough Council, much of the town’s intolerance is born of apocryphal tales about asylum-seekers. One doing the rounds tells of an Iraqi buying a car with his benefit cheque.
None of the 40 Kurds on the Caia Park estate were asylum seekers; all were in Britain legally. One had brain damage from being tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime, it was revealed at a recent court appearance connected to the riots.
The riots began after an Iraqi man was attacked and badly injured, prompting clashes between Kurds and locals. The next night, a mob of 200 attacked police with petrol bombs.
But the Red Dragon regulars prefer to talk about the anti-white bias in the judge’s sentencing of the rioters. The Kurds got between two and eight months while many Welsh defendants got 15.
“When the news [of the sentences] came through, people in here were saying ‘it’s the colour of this that makes the difference,” said Mr Thomas, pinching his skin. “The Kurds were the ones who did the damage.”
Not everyone propounds anti-immigrant views. Tony Brown, 38, who was jailed for 15 months for his part in the riot, surprisingly won’t knock immigrants’ right to be here. But his daughter, 18, now “blanks foreigners” “for what they made him go through”.
Always quick to exploit a perceived anti-white prejudice, the British National Party sent two activists to the Red Dragon a few weeks ago after 40 regulars had staged a two-hour march to protest against the sentences. “The customers ripped up their propaganda and told them to fuck off out of the pub,” said Mr Thomas. “They don’t go in for Adolf Hitler stuff around here.”
But the party may field candidates here in June’s elections, and it certainly seems to have an audience in the nearby former mining village of Rhosllanerchrugog. In a graffiti attack 10 days ago, the words “nigger lover” and “Keep Rhos White” were daubed on the home of an English childminder and her Gambian husband.
The couple will not be named for fear of recriminations but the woman, 45, who has lived in the village for 15 years, said she has considered leaving. “They tell me it’s just a ‘Rhos thing’ but the police say it’s an organised, far-right attack,” she said.
Her husband, 30, who works as a pallet packer at the Dairy Crest factory in Wrexham, moved to Britain last July, four years after the couple met at the Gambian hotel where she was holidaying. “Why this? I’ve tried hard to integrate. I drink at the local pubs,” he said. Evidently not at the Hafod colliery social club. Immigrants “have everything going — they want houses, benefit, the lot, but they don’t want to work,” said a 60-year-old. Only one of his group of 10 demurred.
All this prejudice is born of fear, said Davidii Kakande, 29, a refugee Ugandan journalist living in Wrexham. “You try to mix but it’s hard unless you have an entrée,” he said. “It’s hard to find a girlfriend here. I’ve been told they think people from Africa [might] have Aids.”
Anxiety has also spread to the borough council chambers, where, after the disturbances, some councillors demanded to know if immigrants were being placed in their wards — a breach of data protection legislation. The situation has “not been helped by all the hysteria about asylum,” admitted council leader Shan Wilkinson. “The problem is people’s innate xenophobia. A fear of strangeness is a natural human instinct. I’m not sure how but we have to sort this fear.”
Wrexham’s foreigners will not all disappear. The town has its sink estates, like Caia, but ever since the mines and steelworks closed in the 1980s, it has had a history of job creation. Unemployment is at just 1.6 per cent. The abundance of unskilled work makes the place attractive to refugees.
At the Red Dragon, they are more concerned about when the rioters will be home from prison: the noticeboard, littered with prison letters, attests to the heroic status of men like “Skimbo”, “Davey” and “Talbot”. “They saved this pub. They probably saved lives,” said Mr Thomas. “These are the people we want in here.”