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After Brexit, anti-immigrant attacks shame the UK

After Brexit, anti-immigrant attacks shame the UK

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There has been plenty of fear and recrimination since the result of the referendum, but perhaps the most scared part of Britain today is its immigrant population. For all the political machinations and fallout, it is that story which demands some of our most immediate attention.

Since the result was announced there has been a surge in reported attacks of abuse, vandalism, violence, harassment and hatred directed against immigrants. Among a number of examples are that POSK London, a cultural centre for Poles established by Poles in exile in allied Britain during WW2. The centre was graffitied with messages telling Poles to “go home”, “fuck off” and other sinister messages. Situated in Hammersmith, where it has long been a major contributor to the local community, its shocked chair could only say that this had never happened before – something had changed with the referendum result.

In Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, Polish families have been having messages saying “no more Polish vermin” pushed through their letterboxes and handed out in the town. There have been reports of violent attacks, of children bullied at school, people confronted in restaurants, on the streets, in workplaces and online. They have been told to go home, mocked, bullied, and in some cases physically assaulted. My friend Jakub Krupa, a London-based Pole, has been covering these events since the referendum. His Tweets over the past few days as reports have come in are frankly shocking to read through.

If these are isolated incidents they certainly don’t feel that way to an increasingly scared and isolated feeling set of immigrant communities up and down the country. These people are here legally, they are ordinary people and families trying to make a life for themselves. They are not responsible for immigration policy, or for the EU, or for the failure of elites to listen to British voters in neglected parts of the country.

Of course it is unfair to lay all the blame for this at the door of the Leave campaign. There are many reasons people voted for Brexit, and not by any means was immigration the only reason. Brexit has not directly caused any of this hostility. But nor can we as a society absolve ourselves of what we have unleashed. An ugly debate that looked for scapegoats and enemies and stoked prejudices and fears (on both sides) has helped legitimize and encourage these actions.

There is a segment of society that has put its head in the sand and tried to pretend that hostility towards immigration is not real and significant. The Labour party for years has tried to sweep the issue of immigration under the carpet, no matter how much it kept resurfacing as a problem (remember #Bigotgate and Gordon Brown?). Now a segment of Brexit supporters are trying to claim the result had nothing to do with hostility towards immigrants, and so to wash their hands of what has happened.

To be clear, while Brexit was a broad church, it is naive to think that for a significant portion of the 52% immigration was not a key issue that stoked anger, resentmnent and a Brexit vote. The way the debate was conducted sets the standard of discourse, and both sides ran aggressive, nasty campaigns that demonized their opponents. The fact of the matter is that for many on the Brexit side that means immigrants, and at least part of the blame for the wave of hatred going the way of immigrants must be laid at the door of UKIP and their fellow travellers who helped create this atmosphere.

As part of the reconciliation that should follow this vote (though there’s little evidence of it thus far) I want to see the leading lights of the Leave campaign join together in solidarity with those immigrant communities facing hostility, smooth the transition towards Brexit and take a major role in defusing this dangerous situation in which too many people now find themselves through no fault of their own. It’s time for everyone to start taking some responsibility and join together to prevent Britain becoming a place where it is not safe to be non-British, and in which innocent people are harassed and abused for the crime of having been born abroad. The current situation is a shameful blight on our nation and it needs to be addressed now.

Image by moritz320 from available in the public domain


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