Post-Brexit, Britain fixes a rise in immigrant abuse

Even as abuse of immigrants increases after the “Leave” victory, British groups rally to replace this spike in hate with messages of love, respect, and equality

AP Photo
A "Remain" supporter, her face painted to resemble the EU flag, walks in London, as protesters marchedJuly 2 to Parliament Square to show their support for the European Union in the wake of a referendum decision for Britain to leave the EU, known as "Brexit."

Hate crimes against foreigners have risen sharply in Britain since a June 23 referendum resulted in a decision to split from the European Union. The campaign to “Leave” has somehow allowed a minority of its supporters to believe it is OK to be racist or xenophobic about immigrants. In addition, the country is now debating whether the estimated 2 million EU citizens living in the UK should be forced out if “Brexit” actually takes place.

The victims of this new spike in abuse, which include negative social media, range from Poles to Pakistanis. They are being clumped together as scapegoats for what many “Leave” advocates say ails the country, such as loss of community cohesion. In some cases, the abuse has included physical assaults.

Yet amid this outburst of public hate, a few groups and leaders are trying to restore Britain’s fractured politics and renew its tradition of a society open to the world. “We need to heal our country and our politics,’’ says Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour Party’s leader in the House of Lords.

One example is the organization Hope Not Hate. On Monday, it launched an initiative to hold “unity” meetings in more than 100 communities with high social tensions after the referendum. The group wants to change “the narrative” from a focus on abuse of immigrants to one that celebrates tolerance and inclusion.

Another grassroots group, London Citizens, is sending volunteers out to help people report on hate crimes. It is also handing out stickers with the message “Love London. No place for hate.”

A well-established alliance, the Place of Welcome, has ramped up its efforts to open churches and other houses of faith to neighbors and strangers. The idea is to provide a setting for discussion, usually over tea and other refreshments, based on the concept of hospitality found in verses from the Bible and Quran.

Many other efforts are found on social media. A new Facebook page, for example, offers free downloads of posters and other material with the phrase “You Are Loved.” One Facebook page, called Worrying Signs, provides advice on how to report hate attacks.

Police too are advising migrants to report abuses. “Our message to them is don’t give way to bullies and don’t suffer in silence,” said Sara Thornton, chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

The big message in such efforts is to restore respect and equality in British society and politics. This is the best way to subvert a culture of fear.

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