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Brexit induced xenophobia and racism: how bad is it and what needs to be done?

Brexit induced xenophobia and racism: how bad is it and what needs to be done?

Xenophobia and racism isn’t new and was very much an issue to be tackled before the EU referendum, but with the spike in street harassment and hate crimes post Brexit It’s time we start to take community divisions seriously.

Last weekend it was reported that there has been a sudden increase in anti-immigration hate crimes, particularly in areas that voted leave in the EU referendum. Lincolnshire was the highest for the leave vote at 75% in Boston – data directly from the local police force database show the area saw an increase of 191% in hate crimes when compared to last year. This isn’t isolated, with Kent and Derbyshire showing similar trends.

I had a conversation with Hanna Thomas, who is a part of the team that set up and runs iStreetWatch. iStreetWatch is a website, which tracks racist and xenophobic harassment in public spaces - on their website you are able to report these incidents and see a live map of how many have taken place and in which regions in the UK. This is to further highlight the lived experience of those most at risk – people of colour and EU migrants.

Hanna spoke to me about how this project came about.

“I watched the referendum from afar as I was away. When I got back to London on the Sunday, I met up with some friends and just in a group of three friends there were a lot of stories of racism and street harassment from the past weekend, which were clearly linked to the referendum result”.

In our chat Hanna expressed the importance of people having an alternative to the police when seeking to report these incidents.

“If they want to, people should report incidents of hate crimes to the police, but it’s important to remember that there are many reasons why someone would choose not to do that. For example, if they’ve had a bad experience with the police or they have their immigration status to think about. Also, these experiences can be terribly traumatic so you might not want to relive it during an official police process.” 

iStreetWatch, Worrying Signs and PostRefRacism produced a report analysing 636 reports made to them between 25th June and 24th July 2016. Key findings include:

• Polish people made up 40% of European victims
• Nearly a third of incidents were aimed at people of BAME backgrounds, specifically South Asians
• 16% of incidents were reported by South Asians and around a 5th of this abuse was islamophobic
• 51% of the attacks referred specifically to the referendum – a strong signal that this upsurge in racist and xenophobic attacks is related to Brexit.

When I asked what she thought needed to be done, Hanna said:

“If you are at low risk of xenophobic or racist abuse and not having to go around your days feeling scared, I think a good first step is asking yourself what are you doing to help the people that are, because it’s not the responsibility of the people getting the abuse to address this. We can see from the reports submitted to iStreetWatch that people aren’t often stepping in to intervene when they witness an incident, but we need to train ourselves to shut down this behaviour every time we see it because this is how a culture is created. I also think groups who are working to tackle these issues talking to each other and coordinating is important, and I can see many groups pulling together after the referendum”.

Class also argues that at the macro level we need to hear a new political rhetoric on immigration. A large share of the responsibility for this upsurge in racist and xenophobic attacks falls at the feet of political leaders here, and elsewhere, who have used inflammatory language and an anti-immigration stance for personal political gain. This must end.

Tools like iStreetWatch are important innovations to bringing to the forefront the experience of marginalised groups in the UK and thus starting important conversations in how to tackle the surge of xenophobic and racist attacks. Community divisions that were created and reinforced as a result of, and during the EU referendum campaign needs to be addressed and groups like iStreetWatch, Worrying Signs and PostRefRacism help us see the stark reality of the task ahead.