English bishops condemn rise in xenophobic attacks after Brexit vote

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Hackett, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

Catholic bishops condemned a sharp rise in xenophobic and racist attacks
following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of
Westminster said the “upsurge of racism, of hatred toward others is
something we must not tolerate.”

“We have to say this is
simply not acceptable in a humane society, and it should never be provoked or
promoted,” he said.

The June 28 statement from
Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales,
came a day after the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed that of 85
complaints of hate crime were received between June 23, the day of the
referendum on United Kingdom membership in the EU, and June 26.

The figure represented a 57 percent
increase in such offenses in a similar period just a month earlier.

Xenophobic incidents included
the vandalism of the buildings of a Polish social and cultural association in
London and the verbal abuse of foreigners on a tram in Manchester, a film of
which was sent to Channel 4 News June 28.

Far-right nationalists at a
rally in Newcastle June 25 unfurled a banner that demanded: “Stop
Immigration, Start Repatriation” and, on June 28, a German woman who has
lived in Britain since the 1970s wept as she told LBC London radio that she was
too scared to leave her house three days after dog excrement was thrown at her

She said: “My neighbors
told me that they don’t want me living in this road and that they are not
friends with foreigners.”

“My friend … has a
grandson who is 7 and who was beaten up because he has a foreign grandmother,”
she added.

Britain has been a primary
destination for many citizens of poorer EU countries, with annual net migration
reaching 330,000 people a year. Many of the migrants to the U.K. are Catholics
from Central Europe, Asia and Africa.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth
told CNS in a June 28 telephone interview that, in his diocese, there were “huge
numbers of immigrants from Poland, Kerala (India), the Philippines and Nigeria.”

“I am extremely sad to
think of violence against foreign people who are living here,” he said. “There
is no justification whatsoever for that.

“Many of these immigrants
are already beloved members of our communities. They have contributed to local
life and organizations,” he said.

“Britain has always,
through the centuries, been a country which has assimilated people from abroad,
and they have taken on our values, and also they have made us proud because
they have made a great success of it,” Bishop Egan said.

“Both materially and
spiritually, the vast majority of people who are working here and in our
diocese are making a wonderful contribution,” he added. “To think of
violence against them is self-destructive. It is self-harm. We are harming
ourselves as much as we are inflicting division and suffering on others.”

Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton,
the diocese based in Bristol, also issued a statement telling Catholics
that it was important “to work for the common good and not create barriers
of division and prejudice.”

“We should have a profound
respect for one another, and this should be reflected in the way we speak and
behave,” said the statement posted on the diocesan website June 27.

“We need to keep in mind
the needs of all citizens, particularly those who may feel marginalized at this
present moment, and continue to be a tolerant society, free of racial and
religious prejudice,” he said.

Concerns over the phenomenon of
mass migration, and the apparent inability of the U.K. to control its borders,
had helped to fuel efforts to take Britain out of the EU in a referendum won by
the “Leave” campaigners, with the public voting 52-48 percent to
withdraw from the bloc.

British Prime Minister David
Cameron, who had fought for the U.K. to remain inside the EU, announced his
resignation June 24.

In the weeks before the
referendum, national newspapers such as the Mail on Sunday had exposed how
far-right nationalists, including neo-Nazis, had been actively campaigning on
the Leave side.

Witold Sobkow, Poland’s
ambassador to the U.K., expressed shock at the surge in xenophobic abuse.

Cameron told the House of
Commons June 27 that such crimes must be stamped out. “We will not stand
for hate crime or these kinds of attacks,” he said.

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