Welsh racists target Asian doctors and shops

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The Independent Online
DOCTORS and shop owners from ethnic minorities are being driven out of their homes in the Welsh valleys by neo-Nazi supporters who have made them the target of increasingly violent racist attacks.

Asian and black residents have been left in fear as cases have escalated from right-wing graffiti daubed on walls to physical assaults and even murder. In the past year alone, racist incidents have increased by 100 per cent in South Wales, from 367 to 733.

The highest number of these have occurred in the former mining villages of the Rhondda Valley, which have an ethnic minority population of less than 2,000. There were 101 reports of racist activity over the past year, compared with 64 between 1997 and 1998, including at least four attacks on doctors.

Here, many of the doctors are Asian because their white colleagues do not want to work in such isolated and deprived areas. So serious is the situation that police and voluntary organisations last month launched the Valleys Multi-Agency Forum to Tackle Racial Harassment, aimed at fighting racism by pooling information and resources.

Anti-racism groups say that unemployment is a major factor in the surge in attacks because more people have jobs in Asian communities than amongst the white population. Young children are also being enticed into supporting extreme right-wing groups through propaganda on the internet.The violent racist crime is being perpetrated by organised fascist sympathisers allied to the Ku Klux Klan and the British National Party. South Wales is also only one of three areas in the country where Combat 18 is said to be active.

Four years ago, a shopkeeper, Mohan Kullah, died after being beaten unconscious outside his grocery store. Three Ku Klux Klan supporters were jailed last month for punching and kicking Dr Sudhir Sarnobat at a car wash. For 15 years, the doctor has lived in Ton Pentre, in the Rhondda Valley. There are bars at his surgery windows because they have been smashed countless times and he has now put his house up for sale.

"I love the valleys but this incident has precipitated my decision to move," he said. "After the attack I kept seeing their faces at my car window and it was a nightmare. I think jealousy is a factor in this because a lot of Asians in the area have good jobs."

In the nearby village of Maerdy lives Dr Sajal Sengupta. He still has a scar on his leg from where he was brutally kicked three years ago by a gang who gave a Nazi salute as they dragged him from his car.

After 29 years caring for the local residents, Dr Sengupta will retire this year partly as a result of the trauma he suffered. "I thought that they were going to kill me," he said. "It was only because an old lady came along that they ran off. When I first came here there was no racist culture but it has changed in the past few years.

"Asian doctors come here because white doctors do not want the jobs, but I think they will be put off coming here. This is a very close-knit community and most people are ashamed of this happening."

Across the valley in Caerau is the home of Allan Beshella who led the formation of the British Ku Klux Klan. Although born in London, Beshella spent much of his life in America where he received convictions for handling firearms and child abuse. A few years ago, he decided to return to his homeland.

Locals have complained of his presence but there has never been evidence to link him with racist attacks. One man, who preferred not to be named, says he spent years trying to have Beshella evicted after he tried to recruit his son. He says people are too scared to confront racism for fear of reprisal. "Beshella called this place a `hick town' which is why he is here," he said. "It's easy to lure people in when they have no other purpose. I'm not scared of him but my windows got smashed and I don't want any more hassle."

The situation is depressingly familiar to Neil Sullivan. He is director of the Valleys Race Equality Council, which was set up last year to act for victims of discrimination and to educate schoolchildren about racism.

"The ethnic minority population runs identifiable premises which can be the target of criminal damage," he said. "Education is an important factor to dissuade the young to join these groups. The importance is to educate 99 per cent of people to make a peaceful society."

His views are echoed by Inspector Jeff Farrar, head of the South Wales police minorities and racial incidents unit. "There is a huge problem in the valleys where isolation makes these people vulnerable.

"They develop a coping strategy because they have to continue to live and work in the area. This means even when people have had their windows smashed they still play down the racist element. But we will go to whatever lengths it takes to wipe out racists and this behaviour will not be tolerated."

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