Three months ago we started a pilot project: Eastern European Hate Crime Advocates, done in Partnership with Roma Support, which aims to increase reporting of hate crime and build confidence of targeted communities in the justice system.
Eastern Europeans have become the new “other” in the heated immigration debate in the UK, a target for discrimination and exploitation, and recent racial hate crime. Our observations suggested that the most at risk members of Polish, Romanian and Roma communities are those most disadvantaged and marginalised: with low life skills, in exploitative workplace, in overcrowd housing, struggling on low income. The project implements outreach approaches in seven London boroughs (Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Brent, Newham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and Haringey) which were carefully chosen due to their large Polish, Polish Roma, Romanian Roma populations and the fact that these boroughs differ significantly in terms of demographics, deprivation and available support services.
Even since 2015, when the EU referendum became a part of the migration conversation, there has been an observed increase in levels of fear and anxiety in the Polish, Romanian and Roma communities, accompanied by a negative portrayal of European residents in some parts of the popular press, so much so that a public opinion poll found that over half of respondents in the UK normally have in mind EU citizens when thinking about immigrants, all these resulting in rising levels of verbal and physical abuse against EE nationals.
Ultimately, immediately after the referendum that changed everyones lives, we observed a significant rise in hate crime against Eastern European nationals, Polish people in particular. The data shows that hate crimes have risen up to 100% in England and Wales in the months following the Brexit vote. Although there haven’t been any major incidents such as the one in August when a Polish national was murdered in Essex, we often receive phone calls from people who experienced hate crime, just because they are Eastern European. In this context, it’s reasonable to assume that these spikes will be returning by the end of this month, when the government will trigger article 50.
Even though our Polish, Romanian and Roma users experienced impact of hate incidents, there is still a very strong reluctance to report them directly to the police. Consistently, users have been saying that the “police cannot help” or that “we have accept our fate”. Moreover, hate crime is unknown as a crime in Romania and unfortunately, in Roma communities is such a daily occurrence that is often ignored. Some studies show that a person experiences hate crime on average of 30 times before they decide to report it to the police. Furthermore, because most of hate crime incidents happen in close environments (neighbourhoods, workplace, schools, local shops), makes them even more unlikely to be reported, simply because people are afraid, people think that reporting incidents to the police would put them at further risk of retribution from perpetrators.
We have conducted extensive physical and digital outreach in our targeted communities, and we found out that a great number of incidents happen in the workplace. For example, we received a very concerning phone call from a very distressed Polish national from Blackpool. He told us he works as a waiter in a restaurant and that was attacked with a big knife by the cook, his co-worker, shouting: “Go back to your country!”. Fortunately, nobody was harmed. The Polish national was still very scared and unsure what to do next, whether he should take the case to the police. We advised him to do so and offered him our support with taking the case further. This case is particularly poignant, because, if the incident wouldn’t have been racially motivated in any way, if the victim would not have been Polish, we think that he would’ve been more likely to report it to the police. But in this case, away from his home country and support networks, the Polish national was scared to do so.
Another example was a group of Polish builders working as sub-contractors were asked to complete an important task on a building site. However, the contractor gave them wrong instructions. After the works were completed, the contractor realised that his directions were incorrect and the whole construction needs to be redone, and the cost would be doubled as it involved a structural work. He asked Polish subcontractors not to mention his mistake to the building owner, which they agreed to. The builders completed all necessary works in order to fix the problem. However, when they asked for their payment they were told that it was their fault so they won’t be paid and if they are not happy they can „f..k off to Poland”. Unfortunately, these kind of stories are more common that we would want to. Our casework suggests that exploitation of migrant workers is endemic. It is very disturbing to think that companies that build our homes, shopping centres and offices use migrant workers who are exploited and not paid.
Furthermore, a significant proportion of the victims of physical abuse are schoolchildren. In the wake of the referendum many Eastern European pupils fell victim to xenophobic violence, with little response from schools.
The Brexit referendum has put people in a very vulnerable position, they don’t feel safe. We constantly get messages from people who simply say: ” I am afraid of speaking in public because of my accent.” or ” I am afraid to use public transport”. People are afraid of standing up for themselves.
Moreover, we have observed that victims of hate crime are more likely to be low-income people; people who are potentially posing a threat to public funds, rather than EE migrants working in the City, for example. Therefore, most victims are already vulnerable people, who are afraid of losing their jobs, if they report the hate crime, and who also suffer because of the language barrier and the lack of awareness about hate crime.
March, the month when the article 50 will allegedly be triggered, is a crucial month for our target communities, therefore we are planning a few awareness events to outreach to our EE nationals. On March 25th we will have a raising awareness event in Stratford, one of the most culturally diverse places in London, combining knowledge about rights at work with racial hate crime awareness. We are also working with the police to train their officers to better understand how it feels to be an Eastern European victim of hate crime and deal successfully with people reporting them, delivered through an event for Police services in the form of a theatre forum, where officers will learn how it is to be a EE victim of hate crime.
Furthermore, we also plan more events in April in POSK to further conduct outreach about hate crime to our Polish and other EE communities.
We strongly feel there is much work to be done to reach the most vulnerable communities, and the timing is vital. We hope we will be able to continue this project after it’s official ending in June, and we appreciate any help and support from our partners and members of our Eastern European communities.
Have you been a victim of hate crime of have you witnessed one?
You may be upset, angry, in shock or hurt but it is very important that you report it as soon as possible!
Police Emergency: 999
Police Non-Emergency: 101
Or call us!
East European Resource Centre
Hate Crime Advocates (open Monday – Friday 9.30 – 5pm): 020 8741 1288, 0800 121 4226
or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org