AN uncomfortable animosity is growing in Glasgow towards the tiny number of Roma people involved in what is believed to be organised begging.

As our interviews with Scottish beggars shows, even they reserve special ire for Roma beggars. Roma begging is a difficult subject to broach, laced as it is with elements of racism and discrimination against a people who have suffered discrimination and persecution in Eastern Europe for centuries.

Glasgow police warned recently of so-called "barefoot beggars" - men with no shoes hunched on shopping streets and asking for money. Reports indicated that some barefoot beggars, believed to be Roma, had been detained in Glasgow.

Chief Inspector Alan Porte, the officer in charge of policing the city centre, spoke of "regular indigenous individuals down on their luck" but of begging as a "relatively organised" category that is "almost as an occupation".

He said a high proportion of these latter beggars "would appear to be foreign nationals living in Glasgow".

The Roma remain one of Europe's most marginalised, impoverished groups and suffer racism and abuse across the Continent.

Eva Kourova, 31, from the Czech Republic, is a post-graduate student at Glasgow Caledonian University who has done community work with the Roma community in Govanhill, on Glasgow's southside.

"In every community you have people who are better or worse off than others," she said. "The people I work with, especially young people, tend to be progressive, active citizens who do not beg on the streets.

"The people you see begging on the streets are those who are forced to get their income this way because there are restrictions on the work they can do in Britain just now.

"There are major restrictions on them entering the labour market here - hence, they look for different means of income to survive, like begging.

"They might appear to be organised - the truth is that they don't have many alternatives left. Some people will probably ask why they are over here if it is so hard for them, but they have more hope here than they would have back home."

Around 1800 Roma people are believed to have settled in Govanhill.

Kourova said: "Integration does take time. Roma people have been here for a while but not long enough so that they can consider themselves to be equal citizens.

"Some people are, of course, integrated. The small amount of people you see on the streets is definitely not representative of the whole community."

One organisation, Romano Lav (Roma Voice), has been set up by Marcela Adamova, a development worker with Oxfam Scotland, to get Roma people involved in the community. Its projects have included a Clean Green team, which picked up litter, planted trees and cleaned up back courts.

"It was a good start," said Kourova. "It showed the area that the Roma people were willing to work hard and contribute to the life of the entire community."