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U.K.: Asian Muslim Ghettos Keep Growing, Hindering Integration

Muslims praying in central London (file photo) Integration of British Muslims has been increasingly hindered by the rise of ghettos. New research shows the population of these mostly inner city communities has been rising very fast -- by one-third over the past decade. These findings have reopened the debate on how to solve this problem, which also breeds extremism. And solutions are not going to be easily found, according to the experts.

London, 8 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Asian Muslim ghettos in Britain have kept growing fast over the past 10 years, hindering integration and raising fears that dissatisfied Muslim youngsters may become easy prey for extremist groupings.

Magnus Ranstorp is the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“I think that home-grown terrorism is certainly being accelerated by the growing ‘ghettoification.’ Not just in Britain, but across Europe. And it’s very easy for the recruiters and for those who are manipulating the individuals to taking that final step. To find the willing recruits who are socially excluded and then marginalized in the society,” Ranstorp said.

This “ghettoisation” has been most visible in eight major cities. Leicester, Birmingham, and Bradford top the scale, followed by London, and others. And the integration or assimilation process in the ghettos is so slow, according to the report released by the Royal Geographical Society, that in many cases it will never happen.

Ali Noorizade heads the Arab-Iranian Studies Centre in London. He says the problem has been that the ghettos are a voluntary creation by mostly Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, not something the society has forced upon them. And he adds that they rarely need to venture outside.
“The women are totally isolated. Majority of them are brought to England to bring children. They are coming from a remote village, and suddenly they find themselves in a society they know nothing about."

“They deal with themselves. Some of them never learn English. They have a Pakistani doctor, they have Pakistani lawyers, and therefore, you know, it became part of their culture to live within their ghetto. And they don’t show any intention to integrate with the society,” Noorizade said.

Other experts view the situation similarly. David Owen is a population studies specialist at the University of Warwick.

“The degree of concentration has increased over 10 years, because there’s been quite rapid growth of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations over that period. They are a very impoverished population who tend to remain within established areas,” Owen said.

Owen says there are other constraints, too: fear of racial harassment outside the ghettos; loss of the immediate, next-door contact with the wider family and friends; and the loss of community facilities, including the closeness of the mosque.

Owen adds that a proportion of new immigrants belong to an Islamic sect that does not wish to mix with other faiths, which makes them entrenched. And the newcomers since 1997 also include women who come to Britain as brides. They too add to the rising ghetto population, as well as boosting high birth rates.

Noorizade confirms these observations, adding that the situation of the ghetto women is really most unfortunate.

“The women are totally isolated. Majority of them are brought to England to bring children. They are coming from a remote village, and suddenly they find themselves in a society they know nothing about. And then their husbands force them to stay indoors and not to participate in any kind of activities,” Noorizade says.

Noorizade says the British government and official institution do not like to see the ghetto-dwellers isolate themselves. Unfortunately, after 9/11 and the London bombings, the finger was pointed at the Muslims, he adds. “And it pushed the ghettos into yet more isolation.”

Owen adds that there are several interlinked problems. Houses within the ghettos are priced much lower than those outside in the suburbs. With low earnings, there is no upward mobility -- which for example many Hindu and Sikh immigrants from India have managed quite successfully -- so there is no possibility to break out from the ghettos.

Official statistics show that nearly three-quarters of the ghettos comprise low-income households. And the unemployment there is three times higher than among the white population.

Owen says that the solution is in improving the economic situation and education, so that people would start moving out.

“That lies with ability to obtain better, higher-status employment. And, also, there is a question of education to obtain higher quality employment. Because Pakistanis and Bangladeshi boys in particular have been amongst the less successful at school,” Owen says.

Noorizade concludes that some action by the government is overdue, but first there has to be more dialogue with the real representatives of the ghettos. “Then, maybe a solution would show itself,” he says.