Brexit Vote Followed By Wave of Hate Crimes Against Immigrants

Anti-immigrant rhetoric set off attacks

Photo of young men in Harrow believed to include attackers who killed a Polish immigrant.

The August killing of Polish immigrant Arkadiusz Jóźwik in Harrow, England, is the most violent incident in a wave of anti-immigrant hate crimes that began shortly before the June 23 Brexit vote. Six teenagers have been arrested in the attack that claimed Jóźwik’s life, all fifteen and sixteen years old.

The murdered man’s brother Radek described what happened to Arkadiusz Jóźwik:

“He was standing eating pizza and they picked on him because of that. He does not speak much English. The young teenagers are so aggressive.”

“Parents need to speak with their children – they are out of control. One of the teenagers started and then seconds later there are 10 or 12 people attacking him.”

“After the Brexit vote it has got worse – I have seen people change – it is hard at the moment.”

As far back as June 29, the situation had gotten so bad that outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron had said “These attacks are appalling and they need to stop.” Anti-immigrant hate crimes began rising two weeks before the Brexit vote and have remained substantially higher than the previous year every week since.

Griff Witte, writing in the Washington Post, says that anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding the Brexit vote incited the outbreak of hate crimes. Accoring to Witte:

three months later, the rate of such crimes remains sharply higher than it was last year, generating fears that the xenophobic passions unleashed by the Brexit vote have created a new normal of fear and intimidation for the country’s approximately 8.5 million foreign-born residents.

According to Witte, many Brexit supporters view the vote as a mandate to expel immigrants. While most await government-initiated deportations, others are taking matters into their own hands. Poles and other Eastern Europeans have been a particular target. When they are heard speaking their native languages, they have sometimes come under attack.

The attacks may be having their desire effect. Eric Hind, a Polish immigrant friend of Jóźwik’s, said that he had received this anti-immigrant message on Facebook the day after the Brexit vote: “What time is the next bus back to Poland?” His mother was told by her manager at work that “now you Poles need to pack up your bags and go back home.”  Hind told the Washington Post that “[p]eople are scared and horrified. I’m scared and horrified.” The Polish immigrant said “My wife wants to move back to Poland. I keep saying, ‘Let’s not panic.’ Arek’s death was one case. But it could have been me.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker condemned the targeting of immigrants in England in his State of the European Union speech saying that “we Europeans can never accept Polish workers being harassed, beaten up or even murdered.”

The rise of anti-immigrant populism in Europe and the United States has increased fears that anger being stirred up will lead to enduring divisions and violence long after elections end.