Migrants left town after hate crimes doubled in wake of Brexit vote
PUBLISHED: 07:30 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 07:39 04 April 2019
As part of our series on multiculturalism in Ipswich, we take a look at hate crime and the impact of the Brexit vote on the town’s migrant populations.
Reports of race hate crimes more than doubled in Suffolk after the Brexit vote, which has been blamed for creating a “toxic” atmosphere.
Figures released by Suffolk Constabulary following a Freedom of Information request show 626 racial hate crimes were recorded in 2017/18 – up from 285 in 2015/16.
Examples include a person allegedly calling the victim a “Brexit Polish b***h” and another saying “I will be happy soon when you get sent home due to Brexit”. Other abusive terms included victims being called “terrorists”, “foreigners”, members of “ISIS” as well as suffering kicks, punches and damage to property. Victims have included taxi drivers, health workers, shopkeepers and teachers.
Many comments were directed towards Eastern Europeans.
According to one report a Romanian child was “racially abused and assaulted by unknown males in an unprovoked attack”. In another, a customer was reported to have been “swearing about Eastern Europeans and Romanians” while visiting a cafe.
While a small number of reports were about victims being abused for being “English” or “white”, the vast majority were against people from foreign countries or ethnic minorities.
The Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) said many foreign nationals living in Ipswich had become “very uncomfortable” since the EU referendum in 2016, and now feared for their future in the UK.
While ISCRE said the majority of Leave voters had based their decision on legitimately-held views about the EU, sovereignty, and other campaign issues, it added that a small minority had used the Brexit outcome to support concerning ideologies.
ISCRE’s Phanuel Mutumburi said that after years of progress in which intercultural relationships had improved, the last two years had seen a regression in attitudes, empowered by the vote.
“We can’t deny there’s now a level of negativity that people are experiencing in communities,” he said.
“With much of the debate around Brexit based on the view that ‘we don’t want these people here’ it’s had a major effect on people.
“Whereas initially people felt they’d come to this country, contributed and were appreciated for what they did, whether it be working in factories or providing care for people with dementia, people felt valued for that.
“But suddenly there’s this toxic view where the country is in turmoil because some people are saying we don’t want you.
“When you’re from that group of people you feel like you’re responsible for all the negativity that’s happening and some people can’t handle that. So we do now have a situation where people are saying ‘we’re going back’.”
Mr Mutumburi highlighted contrasting experiences of foreign-born Ipswich Hospital doctors, who say they are revered and treated with respect at work but subjected to “vile” abuse when taking the bus home.
ISCRE’s Hamil Clarke said that while Ipswich had come “a long way” since he arrived from Barbados in 1955, that progress was now at risk. “We’ve had some fairly tolerant times but I feel those bad old days are beginning to creep back into our society,” he said.
ISCRE chairman Chris Cumberbatch said the problems even affected Ipswich schools, where pupils with European parents were told “you’re going home now”.
“It might sound innocent enough, but that really shakes the ground under your feet, if you’re a young person,” he said,
“You feel British but suddenly you’re told you’re not wanted any more.”
Mr Cumberbatch criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial comments at the 2016 Tory conference when she said: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”
“That really felt like a kick in the teeth for someone like me,” he said. “I was born in Switzerland to a Trinidadian father and English mother, and moved around a lot, but felt very at home here. I’ve got three children, all born at Ipswich Hospital, but according to Theresa May, I’m a citizen of nowhere. There’s now a narrative that you’re not a true Brit, you’re a bit of a traitor, and it’s not something I recognise from growing up in the 90s.”
Mr Cumberbatch said he had met many Europeans in Ipswich since the Brexit vote who felt the same way.
“They were saying, I never expected to go home, I always felt this county was very welcoming,” he said.
“That’s one of the things that, ironically, people really loved about Britain.
“It’s sad because I don’t think many Brits even realised they were well thought of internationally, precisely because of that.”
Mark Strong of Community Praxis said his wife, who is an immigrant, was “crying her eyes out” after the Brexit vote.
“All of a sudden she felt vulnerable and not wanted,” he said. “Why would she want to be in a place where she felt people didn’t want her?”
Religious hate crimes also increased in Suffolk since Brexit, from seven to 54 per year. Eight of the reports were against Christians, including vandalism of a church and hate mail sent to a church, while 26 were against Muslims.
Shayra Begum of the Bangladeshi Support Centre said far more cases went unreported.
As well as Brexit, she said the 9/11 terrorist attacks had led to an upsurge in hatred towards Muslims.
“Before 9/11 my kids had sleepovers at their non-Bangladeshi friends’ houses, they would to my house and call me mum, it as a two-way process,” she said. “Then after 9/11 my children just started to shut down and starting having fewer English friends; they felt the needed to stick more to friends from the same background. Since then, there was a slow process of improvement; it was gradually beginning to settle down and then Brexit happened.”
Mrs Begum said “short-sighted” funding cuts also threatened to undo years of work to improve cultural integration.
She claimed central funding cuts to organisations, including her own, risked Ipswich becoming “like Luton”, where ethnic segregation has divided communities.
Police say social media has played its part
Suffolk police said reports of hate crime “spiked” after key events, such as the Brexit vote and terrorist attacks.
Supt Kerry Cutler, commander for the southern area of Ipswich, said the patterns followed national trends and officers kept a close eye out.
“We do engagement and reassurances in the communities at risk from these sorts of crimes as soon as an event like this happens,” she said.
“They’ll know that it’s coming; they will have seen it on television and they’ll be fearful because they’ll have experienced it after other events.
“Officers will walk along Norwich Road, visit cafes and ask people what’s happening.
“Often we’ll put extra patrols on in the immediate aftermath.”
Supt Cutler said the hate crimes included, verbal comments, harassment, as well as anti-social behaviour and assault. Often, however, the reports related to comments made on Facebook.
“The advent of social media has played a part in enabling people to cast their hatred far wider,” she added.