Race or ethnicity? Hate crime against Eastern Europeans in London.

Last week, we talked at the Hate Crime conference in Brent, part of the Hate Crime awareness week. It was a great and interesting meeting, and we are grateful to have been part of it. It gave us the opportunity to think once again on how to tackle hate crime against the Eastern European community.

Eastern Europeans in Brent are a newly arrived community, with numbers having increased considerably in the last few years. The main two ethnicities are Poles and Romanians. As every newly arrived community, they have little in terms of presence and in the sense of belonging.

Taking into consideration that since the EU accession years – 2004 and 2007 – overall numbers of Eastern Europeans increased rapidly across all London boroughs and across the UK in general, this phenomenon was met with backlash from the popular media. Eastern Europeans were, and still are, portrayed as invaders from poor countries, often lacking skills and education but overall decent workers. This also created social tensions in local communities.

Because many of Eastern Europeans came to the UK with the intention of building their lives here with very little in their pockets, they were (and often still are) willing to take any job that provides an income. It created the spiral of exploitation and abuse, with many of our users telling us that it was ‘a migration deal’: “we are allowed to come over but we don’t deserve equal treatment.”

This phenomenon has been amplified by poor or lack of provision of any services that encourage integration of newly arrived communities, such as affordable English classes or career guidance appropriate for workers with different educational backgrounds. People often felt used as cheap labour, ostracised, being second class citizens. The longer the route to integration, the less confident and more anxious our communities become. In addition, the way of talking about our communities as a ‘problem’ (as in ‘we have problem with Poles in my council’) aggravate the sense of hostility and not being wanted. It undermines any reasonable intents of integration.

The Brexit referendum opened this wound up. Casual racism and xenophobia became explicit incidents, common in the most important areas close to a victim: at work, in school, in the neighbourhood. Eastern Europeans have been told they wouldn’t be paid and told to ‘f*** off to Poland’. Wages are being withheld and access to training and progression limited or cut off. In the words of one worker, ‘ships in Dover are waiting’.

Because racist or xenophobic behaviours towards Eastern Europeans have been so massively naturalised in these communities, it’s not a surprise that supporting victims to detect hate crime, articulate the nature of an incident and report to the police or other relevant body has been a real challenge for us.

But it has to be done. If our local communities are to live in harmony and understanding, Eastern Europeans need to be recognised as full members of local communities, therefore we need to work on eradicating hate crime and hate speech, and increase efforts to help newly arrived communities to integrate to British markets (labour, housing, education & schooling, health) as well as to help them to find a sense of belonging.

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