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Poles attacked in Britain

Samira Shackle, LondonSeptember 5, 2016

Three Polish ministers are to make an urgent visit to London following a spate of violent attacks on Polish nationals in Britain, reports Samira Shackle from London.

England Polnischer Mann von Jugendlichen getötet
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. McCrudden

In the early hours of Sunday morning, two Polish men, who have not been named by police, were beaten up by a gang in Harlow north of London. This is the same Essex town where another Pole, Arkadiusz Jozwik, was badly beaten and killed on August 27. Six teenagers have been arrested in connection with the murder, and it is being investigated as a hate crime.

On Saturday, September 3, a silent vigil of hundreds of people marched through Harlow to remember Jozwik. The two other men were attacked just hours after the vigil ended. One victim was left with a broken nose and the other with a cut to the head after being set upon by up to five other men outside a pub.

"This was a vicious and horrible attack. Although we are considering this matter as a potential hate crime, it is not being linked with the attack at The Stow last weekend," said Superintendent Trevor Roe of the Essex Police, referring to the murder of Jozwik.

Following the June 23 referendum, when Britain voted in favor of leaving the European Union, there appears to be a rise in crimes of this nature. These incidents included the vandalizing of a Polish community center in west London and the distribution of cards reading "no more Polish vermin" in Cambridgeshire.

On Saturday, before the two men were attacked in Harlow, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski publically urged Britain to take action: "We're counting on the British government and authorities responsible for the safety of British and European citizens, including Poles, to prevent the kind of xenophobic acts we've seen recently."

Jaasia Polski Skelp
Polish owned shops, like this one, contribute to the English economyImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/J. Nicholson

Uncertain future

There are around 800,000 Poles living in Britain, making them one of the UK's biggest minority groups. Many moved here after Poland joined the EU in 2004, but there was already a long-standing Polish community before this date, particularly following World War Two. Polish is the second most spoken language in England.

"Poles have been here for many decades," says Jaroslaw Andrwski, who was born in northern England after his parents immigrated in the 1950s. "What happened on June 23 makes you wonder about the future. Many of us in our community have suffered verbal abuse and worse since the vote. You hear news like this and it is impossible not to feel afraid: what if it is me next, or my son."

People traveled from all over the country to attend the vigil in Harlow on Saturday. Janeta Krajewska, who lives in London, was there. "What happened is terrible. It is a personal tragedy for the families, but it is a tragedy for all of us, too," she told DW. "We Poles have contributed a lot to the British economy and culture and I hate to see children exposed to this disgusting hate speech – and worse."

What next?

The Polish authorities did not specify exactly when their delegation would travel to the UK. It has also been reported that the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo wants to speak directly to Theresa May about the attacks.

"The safety of Poles in the UK will be discussed with the Home Office, Department of Education, local authorities, and Polish organizations," a spokesman for the Polish embassy in London told DW.

In the short-term, the Harlow police force said there would be "an increased number of visible policing patrols in Harlow to both reassure and protect the community." Meanwhile, the British government recently announced a sweeping review of how police forces nationwide handle hate crimes in the wake of the huge increase of reported incidents after mid-June. This will include extra funds for protection at places of worship and a push to get hard-to-reach groups to report hate crimes.

"This assault in Harlow raises fears not only within the Polish Community but also for all immigrant communities with regard to their well-being and safety," Tadeusz K. Stenzel, chair of the Federation of British Poles, told DW. "A fair and lawful punishment for those who commit such crimes, together with the goodwill and understanding on the part of citizens need to prevail so that we can all live in a peaceful and harmonious society."