The massive publicity this week surrounding the discovery of ‘Maria’ – a blonde-haired, green-eyed child living in central Greece with a Roma couple proved to be not her biological parents, has served to shine a harsh spotlight on British immigration controls: or the lack of them.

Atavistic fears about the alleged propensity of the Roma – traditionally called Gypsies in Britain – to steal things – including children – were embedded deeply in Europe’s collective folk memory through nursery rhymes such as ‘My mother said that I never should/ Play with the Gypsies in the wood..’ and such popular prejudice was partially responsible for the Roma and Sinti people being, after the Jews, the chief racial targets and victims of Nazism under the Third Reich: between 120,000 and 1.5 million are estimated to have died in Hitler’s camps.

Widespread hatred of Gypsies is still alive and well in eastern Europe and the Balkans where they form substantial minorities. True to their travelling traditions the Roma have migrated westwards, along with thousands of non-Roma Bulgarians and Romanians, and have been arriving in Italy, France and Britain in increasing numbers – in August it was announced that the influx into the UK was up by a quarter over the previous year.

Sadly, there is substantial evidence that among the economic migrants seeking legitimate work, organised gangs of criminals have also arrived and are already about their nefarious business. The internet is awash with horror stories of Oliver Twist-style gangs of children who are trained by east European ‘Fagins’ to prey on unsuspecting tourists and ordinary people going about their daily business. These kids are groomed not only to become skilled thieves and pickpockets, but also to carry out more modern kinds of crime – such as the theft of mobile phones and credit card fraud.

Paris’s famous art gallery the Louvre now employs a 20-strong squad of armed security guards to defend visitors against such gangs; and travel trade websites offer tips on how to protect yourself against Balkan child criminals. This week the Daily Mail reported that crimes around British cashpoints had trebled in a year – up from 2,553 to more than 7,500. Alarmingly, the paper added that Police estimate that more than 90% of these cashpoint crimes – ranging from simple snatch thefts to sophisticated fraud – are the work of Romanian criminal gangs.

What is really frightening is that those criminals already here are likely to be joined by many more from January onwards when the EU lifts remaining restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarians moving and settling across Europe. In the New Year many thousands – the Home Office resolutely refuses to publish their own guesstimates of how many – of new Balkan migrants will arrive in Britain seeking work and housing; and fully entitled to claim British benefits, along with health and education services. Inevitably, among those seeking lawful work, there will be many criminals looking for a new happy hunting ground to practice their vile trade and fresh victims to prey upon.

UKIP is the only party drawing attention to these inconvenient truths. By demanding a pause on this new Tsunami of unlimited and uncontrolled immigration, we are the only party giving voice to the legitimate fears of people already living in our overcrowded island that the Government has lost the will and the means to curb this influx which is changing the face of our cities, and making us a more fearful, crime-ridden and less tolerant society.

Britain is now in real danger of becoming like the Balkans: countries where minorities such as the Roma are the first to feel the force of ugly public prejudice, anger and resentment . And if that happens, it won’t be the migrants who are to blame, but the Governments that have so irresponsibly done nothing about uncontrolled immigration except shut down all debate on the subject.

Nigel Jones is a UKIP MEP candidate for South-East England.

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