Hate crime has been topical news in the mass media for some time, but there is no doubt that racially or religiously aggravated offences increased significantly during the EU referendum campaign and peaked after the Brexit results were declared in June 2016.
It would be wrong to say that the murder of army officer Lee Rigby near his army barracks in Woolwich south-east London in May 2013, by two deranged, misguided, and radicalized individuals who professed to be the true voice of Islam, was the beginning of an increase in the trend in hate crime. Xenophobic and homophobic crime, has with regret, been a curse of Western society for as long as one can remember, and whilst admittedly, migration to Europe from the African subcontinent and Asia has not assisted in controlling it, it goes without saying that insofar as the United Kingdom is concerned, the EU referendum was certainly a major reason for the increase in hate crime which has continued a trend that must be brought under control before it gets out of control!
Why have migrants and asylum seekers come to the UK, and what was the perception of the Brexit vote?
The Nobel laureate and renowned physicist Albert Einstein, himself a German Jew, when safely in the United States of America at the height of the Jewish Holocaust, said I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer. Most of us can empathize with what he said, and for those of us who live in relative peace in the comfort of our homes, with job security and with the love of our families, it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves what about those less fortunate than us? Here I am referring to migrants and refugees who come to this country in order to obtain such peace and tranquility which most of us almost take for granted. They come here because of the persecution they have suffered in their own countries for reasons of race, religion, nationality member of a particular social group, for example LGBT members, and those with disabilities occasioned perhaps as a result of persecution they received in their own countries, or just because of the way they were born.
Whilst the purpose of the Brexit vote was for the United Kingdom to have managed migration, leave the clutches of the European Union, be able to make its own laws and control its own borders, with regret, the way the referendum was advertised by frenzied politicians and the mass media, clearly was seen as an attack on all migrants. The perception was that EU and non-EU migrants were lumped together, felt unwanted and the purpose of the Brexit vote was to tell them they should go back to their own countries.
Therefore, despite the fact that such migrants had made amazing contributions towards our NHS, and economy in general, they were blamed for delays in the NHS waiting lists, for the housing problem and also that they received preferential treatment over and above British citizens who classed themselves variously as, for example “white” or “Caucasian”, or” true Brits”, or “indigenous people of this island”
Hatred towards migrants and asylum seekers and those refugees leave to remain, who had already been granted asylum, and hatred towards those with disabilities increased to no end after the Brexit vote. Comments about the dress code of those of the Muslim faith, fuelled by blundering comments from politicians, together with the Windrush scandal, certainly did not help to calm down the situation.
Definition of hate crime
There are several definitions of hate crime, but I prefer the definition by the Crown Prosecution Service which is: – a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrate hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
The irony of protection and the backlash
It is ironic is it not, that migrants and refugees who flee their country of nationality or residence and seek protection in the United Kingdom a safe third country because under the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 protocol they are persecuted in their own countries for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, find themselves in the United Kingdom at the but end of such persecution, this time not from the state, but from non state actors such as those who consider themselves as true Brits, part of the indigenous population, white or Caucasians, and who fuel hatred towards such migrants and asylum seekers and refugees. Such xenophobic and homophobic persecution can take place for example at work, in the street, on a bus or train.
Accordingly, the rise of the far-right has gained momentum after the Brexit vote with a consequent, effect that there has been a backlash from the migrant and refugee communities, together with those who themselves are British born but of a different culture, who have felt the bias against their culture, communities, with rising xenophobic and homophobic attitudes, but who unfortunately and misguidedly have taken and continue to take the law into their own hands.
There has been an increase in suicides and detention centres where migrants and asylum seekers were held as a result of racial and religious abuse against them by detention centre officers. News reported that those detained at Brook house and Harmondsworth detention centres, were treated like animals.
The backlash from those supporting migrant, asylum seeking and refugee communities, and those with similar cultures and ethnic backgrounds, who themselves were British born, led in March 2017 to the Westminster Bridge atrocities when one Khalid Masoud killed five persons including PC Keith Palmer stabbing him to death. In May 2017 there was the Manchester Arena attack where a bomb was exploded by a radicalized suicide bomber which killed scores of persons, bringing untold misery to family and friends. In June 2017 there was the London bridge attack, and this year has seen the Finsbury Park mosque attack by white /Caucasian individuals whose aim was to kill as many Muslims as possible by driving a van into the mosque area where people were coming out after prayers.
Soon after the referendum vote there was the murder of a Polish man whose only crime was to speak Polish on his mobile with a family member or friend.
During the referendum campaign, in early June 2016, the Labour MP Joe Cox, a remain campaigner was murdered by Thomas Mair who shouted when in the process of killing her by shooting and then stabbing her, Britain first.
A few weeks ago, on a London bus, as reported in the news, a pregnant Muslim woman wearing her traditional clothing, was insulted by a white woman and told that she was member of the Isis and should go back to Syria. She was apprehended, charged, convicted and received a suspended sentence. Some may say she should actually have received a prison sentence without suspension.
Statistical increase in racially motivated crime
So, there is evil in our society, but evil only breeds evil. So, After the 2017 atrocities racially and religious aggravated offences increased from both sides of the camp, both from the so-called British whites, and those who classed themselves as of the true Muslim faith.
Home Office figures today show a rise in hate crime by 17% in the year ending March 2018, to 94,098 incidents. This is more than double the amount five years ago. Breaking down some areas of hate crime, race hate crime for the same period rose by 14% to 71,000, and religious hate crime was up by 40% to 8336. Hate crime linked to sexual orientation rose by 27% to 11,638, and disability hate crime rose by 30% to 7200, with transgender crime rising by 32% to 1600. However only 13% of reported incidents resulted in a charge or summons. Questions may be asked as to why only a small percentage of incidents resulted in such charge or summons.
Furthermore, the crime survey for England and Wales reported today that there has been a drop of 40% in hate crime incidents in the last 10 years. I wonder whether this may have something to do with people’s disillusionment that reporting hate crime perhaps is not taken as seriously as it should by the authorities. The good news is that where prosecutions are taken up and convictions secured, the courts are handing out tougher sentences.
It is of course crucial to report hate incidents as soon as they occur to the police, and other authorities, for example to a person’s local MP, and whilst appreciating that there is a distinction between hate incidents and a crime and also that there is a high threshold to cross from an incident to a crime, once that threshold has been crossed, I wonder whether enough is being done to bring offenders to justice.
Our police play a magnificent role in helping to keep us safe, but perhaps more interaction is required between the police and local communities with police representatives attending and talking to communities as to how they are dealing with hate crime, and what can be done to reduce it can be reduced it. They need to give confidence to local communities that they are doing everything they can to protect the public. Reporting incidents to the local MPs would also not go amiss.
I have noted that there are times when the police perhaps under pressure from being labelled as racists, have tiptoed over areas of concern or ignored them. I am referring in particular to the Bradford child grooming incidents which only resulted in arrests and convictions and long-term Joe jail sentences for many perpetrators, but it is said in some camps, only after incidents became national news through the mass media. If a crime has been committed, our authorities should not fear to take action. They should not fear being labelled racists when they act for good reason to protect our community. To consider being labelled as racist for not taking action would be only a selfish act.
In conclusion, let us tackle the root causes of prejudice and racism, support hate crime victims and ensure offenders face the full force of the law.
Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.