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Spike in hate crime and racial abuse reported across UK post Brexit

As reports from across UK show rise in hate crime following referendum, racial abuse victim tells MEE it is 'like going back in time to 1970s'
A member of the right-wing English Defence League shouts at police escorting Muslim demonstrators in London on 11 September 2011 (AFP)

Reports of hate crimes against Muslims, EU migrants and Brits of non-white origin have spiked since Britain voted to leave the European Union, according to the police and social media users.

A police hate crime reporting site on Monday said there has been a 57 percent spike in reported racist incidents since the vote on Thursday. The National Police Chiefs' Council said there were 85 reports between Thursday 23 June and Sunday 26 June compared with 54 reports for the corresponding four days, a month  ago. 

Using the hashtag #PostRefRacism, hundreds also took to social media to document and highlight instances of hate crime witnessed or experienced over the weekend after Britain voted to leave the EU. 

Many of those allegedly attacked say their perpetrators cited Britain’s decision to leave the EU as justification for their actions. 

A 46-year-old Londoner, who is half-Egyptian and half-Pakistani, but was born, educated and subsequently worked in the UK her whole life, told Middle East Eye how she was verbally abused on a busy high street in Surrey on Saturday afternoon. 

She said that she was visiting her elderly mother when a man in his mid-30s started yelling that Britain was going to be great again and would get millions back from the EU. 

“He turned around to look at me and said, ‘You – people like you – are going to be out of here soon',” she said. “I was so stunned. This has never happened to me before. I was born and have lived in London all my life.”

She said she was concerned about giving her name to media in case her elderly mother found out about the incident and felt isolated and afraid. To her, the Leave campaign has helped to give an outlet to hate speech. 

“I don’t know if it’s a sign of things to come, and I definitely do not think that people who voted to leave endorse this kind of behaviour, but the way the campaign was run has given a platform for a small minority and it has given this [racist] minority the courage to speak out.”  

"I feel like in one weekend, we have gone back in time to the 1970s." 

NPCC hate crime chief, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said in a statement that the police online hate crime reporting site True Vision had seen an "increase in reports of hate crime" like this over the last few days. 

“This is similar to the trends following other major national or international events. In previous instances, crime levels returned to normal relatively quickly but we are monitoring the situation closely," he said. 

Labour councillor Alice Perry said a fellow councillor was verbally abused in London. 

Londoner Kerem Brullee meanwhile tweeted about a woman in a north London bank allegedly shouting at him, “This is England. We’re white, get out of my country.”

Basheera Khan, also living in London, tweeted "a (white English) man called me a foreigner. Out loud. My first experience of casual racism in London, even. Thanks, Brexit”

Numerous reports of attacks against EU migrants on social media, in particular Polish migrants, have also surfaced. 

The London Metropolitan police were called to investigate racist graffiti that was allegedly smeared on a Polish community building in London on Monday morning according to the Evening Standard

Police are also investigating a hate crime in the Cambridgeshire town of Huntingdon, where Polish families were posted signs in Polish and English saying, “Leave the EU, no more Polish Vermin” on the day of the referendum result. 

Muslim and Polish community groups have both issued statements of condemnation against hate crimes that have been reported, and called on their communities to report any incidences they encounter or witness to the police.

The Polish Embassy in the UK has released a statement on Twitter stating their "shock" and concern about the "recent incidents of xenophobic attacks against the Polish community," and have urged Polish nationals who fall victim or witness xenophobic abuse to report it to the local authorities.   

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told Middle East Eye that it plans to release guidance to mosques across the UK on how to report hate crimes, and to establish relationships with local police forces in preparation for any potential hate crimes on the last few days of Ramadan.

“There has been a hatred against immigrants simmering below the surface for a long time," the MCB's assistant secretary general Miqdaad Versi told MEE. 

“There has been an outpouring of hatred against migrants of all backgrounds. Whether it's a Polish man being beaten up or abuse against a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.”

Versi believes that the referendum results have legitimised the views of “those who wish to divide us” as a “majority of people have voted in line with their thinking on immigration".

Versi argues that intolerance towards immigrants in the UK has been stoked by the media and politicians for years for electoral purposes.

Since the weekend, Labour MP Jess Philips has put a question in Parliament to request data on whether there has been an increase in incidents of racial hatred being reported over the weekend compared to before the referendum.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the public to “stand guard” against hate crime. Khan was joined by London Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe, who ordered his officers to be “extra vigilant” for hate crimes in a press conference earlier today.

Assistant Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, Carl Foulkes, where many voted to leave the EU, said: “We’ve analysed recorded hate crime figures from April 1 to June 26 and not witnessed any spike in offences since the referendum result was announced.

“On average, we record 10 hate crimes per day and the number of incidents reported to us in the last three days is in line with that average."

However, research and policy analyst Farah Elahi, from the Runnymede Trust, says despite a steady increase in the reporting of hate crimes over the years, "it is still significantly under-reported as the 2014 Crime Survey of England and Wales highlighted that 43 percent of personal hate crimes were not reported to the police".

Hamilton added: “We strongly encourage anyone who thinks they may have experienced or witnessed hate crime to report it by calling the police on 101, contacting Crimestoppers or using our True Vision website, where you can also find advice about staying safe. In an emergency, always dial 999.

“Everyone has a right to feel safe and confident about who they are. Being yourself is not a crime: hate crime is.”

“Crime motivated by hatred or hostility towards someone because of who they are or their religious beliefs is absolutely deplorable and will not be tolerated.   

Karen Bradly, Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime in a press statement said: “The government is working closely with communities to increase reporting and increase confidence that their concerns about hate crime will be taken seriously by the police and courts."

The government, she said, only began to report incidents of Islamaphobia last April in a bid to better "understand the nature of hate crime".

British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously criticised the Leave campaign's “obsession” with immigrants, accusing it of stoking intolerance and division with extreme warnings on immigration and suggesting that Britain will be seen as a “narrow, insular and inward looking” country if it left the EU.

Cameron had also called for action against intolerace in a Cabinet meet held on Monday and told parliament in his first statement after the EU referendum that it had a "responsibility" to bring the country together.

The Leave campaign did not respond to MEE's request for comment in time for publication.

- Additional reporting by Simona Sikimic

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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