Following the Brexit referendum in June, a surge in hate crime was seen across the UK. Has triggering Article 50 had the same effect?
BY JEN WILTON
“F&%k off back to your own country, we voted to keep you lot out.”
“It is people like you who bring this country down!”
“EU rats. Go home now.”
These are a few examples of the abuse reported to Migrants’ Rights Network in the weeks following the Brexit referendum in June. The information was collected through online hate crime reporting tool iStreetWatch.
Last week, as Britain formally gave notice it will leave the EU, many anticipated a similar rise in racist and xenophobic attacks. As negotiations with the EU progress, there are concerns the situation will remain bleak for migrants and people of colour.
On Friday, just two days after Article 50 was triggered, a Kurdish-Iranian teenager was hospitalised following a brutal attack in Croydon. He sustained serious head and facial injuries. Police are treating the case as attempted murder.
“It is understood that the suspects asked the victim where he was from,” a Met police representative said, “and when they established that he was an asylum seeker they chased him and launched a brutal attack.”
Surge in hate speech
Prior to Article 50 being triggered, police mobilised extra resources in anticipation of a spike in hate crime. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission also warned of a potential rise in racism and xenophobia, similar to what happened in the months following the Brexit referendum in June.
Within the first day of Article 50 being triggered, there was a reported rise in online hate speech. The finding came from researchers at the Social Data Science Lab at Cardiff University, who use sophisticated tracking methods to monitor social media.
“I’ve seen prejudice being expressed towards individuals from other countries in Europe, but it’s also people from countries outside Europe,” Matthew Williams, principal investigator on the project, told The Independent about the surge in hate speech last week. “There’s been lots of anti-Muslim sentiment and a spike in homophobic hate speech.”
Tracking hate crime as it happens
It is equally important to monitor real-life physical and verbal abuse of migrants, or people perceived to be from elsewhere. This can be a hard task, as although many people experience such incidents on a daily basis, some will be reluctant to come forward with their stories.
The Migrants’ Rights Network launched online hate crime tracking tool iStreetWatch in the days following the Brexit referendum. The site allows people to record their recent experiences of racism and xenophobia in a confidential manner. Some people choose to use iStreetWatch alongside reporting to the police, while others prefer it over talking to law enforcement officials. The data collected allows for monitoring whether inflammatory speech from the media or politicians is in fact fuelling anti-migrant sentiment.
So far 500 racist or xenophobic incidents have been recorded through iStreetWatch. This information gives us a powerful snapshot of the abuse people currently face in post-Brexit Britain. The site also allows the public to pledge their support to assist when they see such abuses taking place, whether through directly confronting the perpetrator or by offering support to the victim. Almost 3,500 people have pledged to speak up in these situations, indicating strong support for reclaiming public spaces from the wave of Brexit-related nationalism currently sweeping the UK.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed racist or xenophobic attacks in recent weeks can share their stories using iStreetWatch’s simple reporting form. Any groups or organisations that think iStreetWatch would be useful for their work can get in touch to discuss ways of working together. Migrants’ Rights Network is already working in partnership with other organisations, including the NUS and Lancaster City Council, to collect good information and strengthen our evidence base on this important issue.
Jen Wilton is iStreetWatch coordinator at Migrants’ Rights Network. She joined in March 2017, having previously worked as a human rights researcher and journalist. She has worked on issues including forced migration, conflict and violence against women. She became particularly interested in the experience of migrants and refugees in the UK after spending time in the Calais migrant camp last year before it was demolished.