The United Kingdom is experiencing an almost unprecedented spike in hate crime against ethnic minorities. Are the authorities helpless to combat the problem? Sarah Bradbury reports from London.
Just before 6 p.m. on September 25, 58-year-old Nasser Kurdy was stabbed in the neck from behind with a knife as he walked into Altrincham Islamic Center in Cheshire. The assault on the Muslim surgeon, who had volunteered to treat victims of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in May this year, is being treated by police as a hate crime. Sadly, incidents such as this are not isolated but part of a worrying trend of hate crime on the rise in the UK.
A hate crime is defined as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim "to be motivated by hostility or prejudice" based on disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
Overall figures show a sustained increase of hate crime in the UK over time: in 2015/16, there were 62,518 offences recorded by police, an increase of 19 percent compared with 2014/15.
Evidence suggests terror attacks and political upheaval have fueled further surges.
Azad Ali, head of community development and engagement at MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), told DW the figures mirrored their own findings.
"The Islamophobia Response Unit saw an almost 400 percent increase in victim reports, ranging from verbal abuse, criminal damage, and physical assaults on Muslims. Our data also showed that Muslim women are overwhelmingly more targeted in these types of hate crimes and attacks," he said.
Spike after Brexit referendum
An unprecedented spike in hate crime toward ethnic minorities and those of non-British nationality was also seen before and after the UK's EU referendum last June.
A UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination raised concerns about the increase, linking it to the "divisive, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic rhetoric" of the referendum campaign, and highlighting the "negative portrayal" of ethnic minority communities, immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees more broadly in UK media coverage and political debate.
A cross-party parliamentary group also accused the UK government of fueling "toxic" anti-immigrant feeling during the Brexit debate, with stats in the report suggesting 62 percent of second-generation migrants feel that Britain has become less tolerant since the Brexit vote.
Ben Ward of Human Rights Watch also commented on the potential of the campaign to breed a climate of intolerance: "There is a risk that the process of exiting the EU — if not managed in the right way — may lead to expressions of intolerance and opposition to people of other nationalities that could be construed by some as invitations to take matters into their own hands."
Read more: Post-Brexit, race inequality rises in the UK
New tools in place to tackle hate crime
The UK's authorities have shown a clear recognition of the problem and expressed sincere commitment to tackling it. Speaking to DW, a Home Office spokesperson explained that 900,000 pounds (€1 million) have been made available for local projects to tackle hate crime, including against the LGBT and Eastern European communities, and more than 3 million pounds to protect places of worship, faith institutions and associated community centers.
A new cross-government working group on anti-Muslim hatred is also being set up, and police are now recording religious-based hate crime by faith, to help identify and focus resources where they are most needed. "All forms of hate crime are unacceptable and our Hate Crime Action Plan improves the response of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to these horrendous attacks, to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report such incidents," the spokesperson said.
Sophie Linden, deputy mayor for policing and crime, told DW, via the mayor of London's press office, that "The Mayor and I are clear that we have a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime of all forms, which has a huge impact on those who experience it."
Further measures are also being taken to tackle the specific problem of online abuse which has proliferated with the explosion of social media: new guidelines to prosecutors in England and Wales state that online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as abuse committed face-to-face.
But while hate crimes are being addressed with seriousness by politicians and police, it seems crucial that incidents are not only punished and dealt with in isolation but understood in their wider context in order to pinpoint the drivers of intolerance and ultimately tackle the root causes of such crimes.
As a spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: "There is no place for racism and hatred in modern Britain. We need tougher sentences to deter perpetrators, a better understanding of what drives hate crime plus how we can defeat it, and hard evidence to show these strategies work."