Two Months Later: Brexit Unleashes Hate Crimes

By Zahava Moerdler

Immediately following the U.K.’s vote to exit the European Union, there was a significant uptick in hate crimes in the U.K. and throughout Europe. Unfortunately, this trend has continued. This major increase in bias-motivated incidents across the continent illuminates the critical need for better investigation, prosecution, and reporting of hate crimes.

As we reported in June, hate crimes reportedly increased 57 percent in the U.K. following the Brexit vote. As many as 500 racist incidents were reported in the weeks following the referendum with crimes ranging from demands for those perceived as foreign to prove they can speak English, to arson attacks, and Swastika graffiti across the country.

In counties that strongly voted to leave, figures show as much as a 191 percent increase in hate crimes compared to the previous year. Police forces in Lincolnshire, a county that strongly supported the Leave campaign, recorded 42 ethnic and religious motivated hate crimes in the week of the vote, and 64 crimes in the week following—as compared to 22 crimes from the same week last year.

A report published on July 28 by Community Security Trust (CST), which has been monitoring antisemitic incidents in the U.K., noted that there were 557 antisemitic incidents in the first six months of 2016, which is an 11 percent increase on the first six months of 2015. CST found that the increase was particularly pronounced between April and June of 2016, when antisemitism, racism, and extremism were prominently discussed in public debates and reported on regularly in the media.

One of the major driving forces behind Brexit was the migration crisis within Europe. Leave campaign proponents disseminated propaganda promoting xenophobia. For example, Boris Johnson and Michael Glove argued in ominous tones that Turkey would be joining the E.U., and with it 80 million Muslims. Nigel Farage said that to take in Syrian refugees would be to put British women at risk of sexual assault. The U.K. example demonstrates a seeming correlation between xenophobic narratives and physical expressions of hatred.

In France and Germany, political forces are also mobilizing around xenophobia, which in turn correspond to an increase in hate incidents. Germany has seen a sharp increase in xenophobia in the past year alongside the rise of extreme-right social movements like PEGIDA. Following the terror attacks at the end of July, right wing groups like Alternative for Germany (AfD) have promoted slogans like “no asylum for Muslims” or “shut the borders.”

But even so, the German government continues to stand by its refugee and migration policy—a welcome show of resolve. A recent Forsa survey shows that 69 percent of Germans do not agree that the government’s refugee policies caused the terror attacks that occurred last month. Germany should continue to protect refugees and promote policies of integration and acceptance. It should also continue to make statistics on hate crimes available and disseminate these statistics publicly.

By contrast, France has not welcomed nearly as many refugees and has had mixed responses to the recent attacks in Nice and Normandy. Following the attack in Nice, France extended its problematic state of emergency, which could further stigmatize already marginalized communities. But after the attack in Normandy, different religious groups banded together in solidarity in the face of crisis, which was reinforced at the national level.

With the upcoming elections and the rising popularity of the National Front, French officials should continue the positive messaging of social cohesion found following the Normandy attack. Additionally, France must improve its recording and publication of disaggregated hate crimes statistics.

The Eur-exit movement in Europe employs xenophobic rhetoric and can be found from France and Germany to Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands. As a result, these countries should be prepared to deal with an uptick in hate crimes by enhancing monitoring, reporting, safety, and prosecutorial capacity. The U.S. government should continue to monitor these developments and promote and support as needed the increased capacity to prevent, monitor, and prosecute hate crimes.


Published on August 23, 2016


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