'We Muslims stay together so we aren't given as much stick'

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The Independent Online

Poverty pervades the red-brick terraced houses of Wiltshire Street in one of Salford's Asian districts. The corner store has long gone and large chunks of render have fallen from the walls of the five or so homes still inhabited.

Yet for all its deprivation, student Ajeeta Naveed dwells on what has kept her and dozens of British Asians here, in the Higher Broughton district, for years. There is the strong sense of community among "the Pakistanis"; good Asian stores, a nearby mosque and - most significant of all - no crime. "The Muslims are together so there's not the stick you get down in Seedley," she says, detailing white racism she has been subjected to in that nearby district. These are the sentiments which are contributing to the "ghetto" mentality Trevor Phillips will warn of in neighbouring Manchester today. Higher Broughton's Asians seem to be as far removed from neighbouring white communities as they were in the 1970s Salford depicted by Damien O'Donnell in his Bafta-nominated East is East six years ago.

O'Donnell's film captured George Khan's family swerving precariously between Bowie and the dowry and, in that respect, little has changed. But young Salford Asians such as Shean, aged 17, are also as disinclined as ever to desert Higher Broughton's Asian shops for the boutiques of wealthy south Manchester. "We know how we want to live here," she said. "There is an understanding between people."

Jaz, 44, a local retailer, worries about that outlook. He sees the wealth being created at designer stores down on the vibrant Salford Quays and fears none of that income will reach Higher Broughton while it is perceived by whites as an Asian district. "It's not just about the Asian outlook. It's also about the white one," he said. "They [the whites] still tend to move out once a certain number of Asians move into a street. They're contributing to the ghettos too."

The issue of whether places such as Salford have become more ghettoised over the years is a subject of some controversy. An index of isolation, which measures the likelihood that two inhabitants of an area will belong to the same ethnic group, has demonstrated increasing ghettoisation. But by another index, that measures how the members of an ethnic group are distributed across a town or city, some major northern conurbations are becoming less segregated.

Salford remains as ghettoised as ever because a "working class" of uneducated Asians with minimal grasp of English are forced to stick together, according to Suchanita Ahmed, an ethnic community worker at the Salford Link ethnic community advise centre in Eccles - one of the Salford districts where East is East was filmed.

"It is like a caste system all over again," she said. "Those who have a grasp of the language are free to move to the affluent south [Manchester]. Those who cannot communicate in English are the ones who find their windows put in by young white youths."

There was no greater illustration of her point than the story of a Latvian, Sergejs Pacejs, who was beaten almost to death by white racists in Higher Broughton in December because he was overheard in the street.

The experience of the Salford community mental health worker Samia Barkatali attest to the desperation felt by some Salford Asians who find themselves stuck in "white" communities. She is currently helping a woman whose husband made the "mistake" of buying them a luxurious flat at Salford Quays and who is desperate to be somewhere like Higher Broughton.

Farah Shahid is proof of the mobility a good grasp of English can buy. She, too, lived in a local Asian district when she arrived from the Punjab 25 years ago but when she moved house she looked for the same as any white Briton - "good schools and somewhere my daughters would be safe".

She opted for Stockport and her four children are now truly British in outlook, she says. "Some people look back and yearn for Pakistan and that's not right," she said. "If you have two countries in your mind you will never succeed."