Monday, September 12, 2016

Surge in racist attacks since Brexit continues

There has been a surge in racist attacks and what police often refer to as hate crimes since the EU referendum which saw some 52% of those who voted opting to leave the European Union.

There are certainly some who would say the attacks are nothing to do with Brexit. Indeed this week Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP and a leading Leave campaigner, accused the media of "jumping on" cases of people who have been attacked or abused which had nothing to do with Brexit [Independent].

However, given the nature of some of the attacks and some of the language used by the perpetrators, it appears clear that at least some attacks have been committed by people emboldened by the Brexit vote and who feel the vote to leave the EU justifies their racial bigotry [Guardian].

'Hostile environment'

A month after the referendum the Prime Minister was accused of helping create the 'hostile environment' that paved the way for 'Fuck off to Poland' messages, excrement being posted through letter boxes, and racist abuse from children as young as ten.

The Independent newspaper reported that there were some 500 racist incidents compiled in a database in just four weeks following the EU referendum [Independent].

There were even comparisons made with 1930s Nazi Germany as a crowd strode through a London street chanting, "First we'll get the Poles out, then the gays!"

Only one day after the result was announced there were calls to radio stations by victims of racist abuse [Independent]. And over the weekend a man was photographed wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "Yes, we won! Now send them back".

While he was later dismissed as a lone 'nutter' and an 'idiot', even by his family, the image of such an individual strolling through an east-London street appeared to epitomise the feeling of a significant minority [Mirror / Sun]. 

Spike in hate crime

Several police forces reported a spike in hate crimes in the week after the vote. But whilst the reporting of such incidents faded from the news the attacks have continued.

While racists have targeted a wide range of groups, Poles in particular have been singled out. Racist graffiti was found on the front entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in Hammersmith, west London, on the Sunday after the referendum. Meanwhile former Conservative chairwoman Baroness Warsi told Sky News that race hate crime organisations had reported some "disturbing early results" and blamed the "divisive and xenophobic" Leave campaigning during the EU referendum [Sky News].


While politicians on both sides of the House condemned the attacks, they continued unabated. Then on 27th August, almost exactly 2 months after the Brexit vote, 40-year-old Arkadiusz Jóźwik died after he was beaten by teenagers in Harlow, about 30 miles north of London. Even in the days that followed other Poles were attacked in the area, and there have been reports of further incidents across Britain.

Speaking at a silent vigil a week later the newly appointed Polish Ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki, spoke of a disturbing rise of hate crimes directed to the Polish community and called for peace and solidarity between the British and Polish communities.

The local MP Robert Halfon said he believed that "the vast majority of people who voted to leave the EU, did so for noble reasons" and that the attacks on the Polish community were committed "by a minority who come from the sewers, who want to exploit division and have their own racist agenda."

Attacks "on a daily basis"

However, Eric Hind, one of the organisers behind a silent march and vigil, said Poles had been quiet for too long.

"Brexit kind of gave the British people a kind of green light to be racist. My family and friends have all been abused. It happens on a daily basis," he told the Guardian newspaper. "We have kept our mouths closed too long. ... This time it is the Polish people, but it could be Muslims, it could be any different group. We need to fight racism everywhere, every day."

At a public meeting in the town some said were were seriously thinking of leaving the town and even Britain because of the rise in racism [BBC].

Mira Gustmajdzimski, who was at the meeting, said Polish people no longer felt part of the community in Harlow, and "many people were scared to come to this meeting".

Albanian Mimoza Matoshi, who works for Integration Support Services in Harlow, said there had been a dramatic rise in racist attacks since Brexit and that some Polish people were considering leaving the town.

Miroslawa Majdzinska from Poland said she had been repeatedly targeted in racist incidents. "Many people were abused, my friends were told not to speak the Polish language at work, kids are not allowed to speak Polish in school," she said.

On Friday [9th September] Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her "deep regret" over attacks on Polish citizens living in the UK and told the Polish PM Beata Szydlo that "hate crime has no place in UK society".

Such words will mean little to the family of Arkadiusz Jóźwik, or the growing number of victims of racial hatred.

Divisive campaign

The Leave campaign and particularly that run by UKIP has been criticised for focusing heavily on immigration and scapegoated European migrants for many of Britain's social problems. Towards the close of the campaign, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was widely criticised for unveiling a poster with pictures of Syrian refugees alongside the caption the "breaking point".

Following the vote it seemed clear that there was some correlation between those areas leaning towards Brexit and a rise in racist attacks. Many areas that voted strongly for Leave posted even higher increases, police figures obtained by The Independent showed.

While some will dispute any connection between Brexit and a rise in hate crime statistics and the feelings amongst migrants appears to indicate otherwise. What is not so clear is whether the heat will gradually dissipate.

tvnewswatch, London

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