An ugly side to the EU referendum result has reared its head in the days since the UK voted to leave the EU on Thursday (June 23), with media outlets reporting a worrying spike in racist and xenophobic abuse.
Remain campaigner and former Conservative parliamentary candidate Shazia Awan, who was born in Caerphilly, Wales, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that in a matter of days she’s experienced an “array of racial abuse.”
She received a tweet saying, “Pack your bags….you’re (sic) going home,” and she also received a racist email which she said she “found particularly worrying because one of these bigots had gone to the trouble of finding my personal details.”
“You are not now, nor will you ever be, Welsh,” the email read. “Being born in Wales has nothing to do with being Welsh. I cannot wait to send you and the anti-white garbage that you stand for back to the third world dumps that you came from.”
Abuse against Polish people has also been widely reported. Cambridgeshire police said it was investigating reports in Huntington that racist laminated cards were being distributed throughout the town which read “Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin” in both English and Polish.
The cards were even found in schools. One young Polish student who found one of the cards said he felt “really sad”. And in West London, outside a Polish cultural centre, racist slurs were scrawled in graffiti across the entrance.
Anti-racist campaign group Hope Not Hate, which works with Unite to fight racial intolerance, called the reported racist incidents “disturbing”.
“Let us be clear: such an outpouring of hate is both despicable and wrong,” said Hope not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles. “Whatever direction our country now chooses, a path towards intolerance and division is not in anyone’s interest.
Called to task
“Choosing a vote on our future on the European Union cannot be a green light for racism and xenophobic attacks and Hope not Hate demands action against the perpetrators,” he added. “Those who would choose to polarise our society should be called to task for their actions.”
Lowles pledged that the campaign group will “stand by those communities under attack.”
“But at the same time the authorities and police must also bring the full force of the law to bear against those who seek to exploit the Referendum to promote an agenda or racial or religious hatred, or indeed any other form of discrimination,” he said.
Show Racism the Red Card, another anti-racist campaign group working closely with Unite, said it is “more important now than ever that we show that such views have no legitimacy.”
“It is not acceptable to treat someone badly or differently because you suspect them to be from another country or that they are in som eway less entitled to the human rights protections afforded to them,” said Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby.
“It is not now, nor has it ever been acceptable to tell someone to ‘go back to where they come from’ or to ‘get out of the country’.”
Grebby, whose campaign group goes into schools to educate young people about racism and prejudice, said it will continue its work to “create conditions in which people can look critically at societal and political narratives and deconstruct them.
“In doing so we must be honest about the history of racism and oppression and the many factors and decisions which have contributed to and supported the establishment of inequality,” he noted.
“Racist and prejudicial ideas and attitudes do not develop overnight, nor in the space of an uncertain few weeks and months,” Grebby added. “As narratives, media focus and public consciousness continue to fluctuate, education will be the constant and consistent means by which we can support the continued rejection of hatred.”
Unite has called for cross-party political action to condemn those who have abused migrant communities and workers in the days since the UK voted to leave the European Union. Unite has also vowed that it will be redoubling its efforts in workplaces and communities to challenge those seeking to spread fear and hate.
Pledging to support communities and workers of all nationalities, Unite said the flames of xenophobia and racism fanned by some during the EU referendum campaign must not be allowed to sow division in our communities.
“Unite stands against the xenophobes and racists now acting to bring fear to people and the communities that were living in harmony in the UK,” said Unite national officer for equalities, Harish Patel.
‘Poison and division’
“The numerous incidents of hate crime and racial abuse seen since the referendum result take our country back to more divided times,” he added. “Those who brought poison and division to the EU referendum debate should not just hang their heads in shame but also make it abundantly clear that they condemn the racism and prejudice now showing its face. This poison must not be allowed to take root.
“Unite and the trade union movement will be playing its part, as we do every day in workplaces across the country, to bring people together because divided we do fall.
“But it is also beholden upon all our political parties to state very clearly that this behaviour has no place whatsoever in a modern, decent society, and to provide the agencies charged with supporting community cohesion the resources they need to bring people together,” Patel noted.
“Over the coming days and weeks Unite will continue to support communities and workers of all nationalities and backgrounds. These are our members, our colleagues, our comrades, our neighbours and our friends. We shall not turn away.”