Since the Leave camp won the Brexit vote a week ago, there has been a staggering fivefold increase in hate crimes reported to a national website, UK police say. Local officials have also noted a surge in both physical and verbal attacks on migrants.
“Since last Thursday, 331 hate crime incidents have been reported to the national online reporting site True Vision compared to the weekly average of 63 reports,” Sara Thornton, head of the NPCC, wrote, adding that, although “many people are reporting hate crime than ever before,” it remains “significantly under reported.”
While Thornton stressed that it is hard to tell how many of those cases are directly linked to the referendum, the national community tensions team has also noted a surge in anti-immigrant abuse. In just one week, migrants have reported “verbal abuse, negative social media commentary including xenophobic language, anti-migrant leafleting and, in very limited numbers, physical assaults.”
Expressing frustration, Thornton said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the upsurge. She is urging those who have been subject to abuse not to “suffer in silence,” stressing that by not reporting and giving in to bullies, victims only contribute to an atmosphere of fear.
The police report is in line with reports from social media where multiple cases of online abuse have been documented since the vote. Dozens of people have posted evidence of hatred and racism under the hashtag #PostRefRacism, which was coined immediately after the Leave camp’s victory was officially announced. Migrants from the Muslim world and Eastern Europe, particularly those from Poland and Romania, appear to be the most likely targets of abuse.
Just recently, Jordanian-born British artist Yasmeen Sabri described how she was verbally attacked by a woman at her London exhibition for displaying a burqa on a stand for visitors to try on. She was approached by an apparently disgruntled guest who began hurling insults at her and attempted to tear the burqa down until she was detained by security.
“She told me to go back to Saudi Arabia, even though I’m Jordanian,” said Sabri, commenting on the incident, as cited by The Evening Standard.
“A couple of people tried to calm her down and she started telling them ‘Arabs don’t belong here, Arabs should leave the city,’” she recalled, adding that the ugly encounter was the first time she had been subjected to such racially-motivated abuse in the six years she has been living in London.
The unprecedented hike in instances of anti-immigrant abuse, which include a reported attack on an eight-year-old Polish girl by her fellow classmates and the distribution of leaflets reading “No more Polish vermin” in letter boxes and on the street, has prompted British PM David Cameron to pledge extra funding so that police can provide security at “vulnerable institutions.” He also wants money to go to creating new guidelines for prosecutors outlining how hate crimes should be dealt with.
“These attacks are appalling and they need to stop and it’s right everyone in this House and everyone on all sides of the referendum debate utterly condemns them,” he said, addressing parliament on Wednesday, stressing that the government must do its utmost to “drive these appalling hate crimes out of our country.”
Anti-migrant sentiment was already riding high in the UK before the vote, with right-wing groups such as the British National Party (BNP) often employing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric.
The brutal murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox, an adamant advocate against Islamophobia, who was shot and stabbed to death by an alleged far-rightist a week before the vote, even brought the Brexit campaign to a brief halt.