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Brexit Vote Leads To Increased Anti-Immigrant Sentiment In The UK


Here's more fallout from the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union. The number of hate crimes reported in Britain is up. Antidiscrimination groups say the vote has led to more hostility against immigrants, and they're trying to do something about it. Lauren Frayer reports from London.

CAROL LINDSAY: Hate crimes - stamping out hate crimes.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: At a London tube station at rush hour, Carol Lindsay is handing out stickers that say, love London - no place for hate. Lindsay is white, Christian, aged 80. And the reason she's here is because in the days since the EU referendum...

LINDSAY: I've heard some people that I know and like saying quite offensive things.

FRAYER: Racist things against immigrants.

LINDSAY: You know, just nastiness. I think it's like a contagion. I feel alarmed. I feel worried.

FRAYER: Many Britons voted to leave the European Union because they want to limit immigration. Lindsay worries the leave campaign's victory has given people a license to discriminate against those who look different. In a convenient store in Scotland, summer school student Callum Hardwick witnessed one such racist incident.

CALLUM HARDWICK: The other side of the counter, elderly male - he proceeds to hurl abuse at the cashier. He takes his money out of his pocket, and he's saying, all you want is our money. And he goes to throw the coins at the cashier.

FRAYER: The cashiers of Pakistani descent eventually convinced the man to leave. No one was hurt.

HARDWICK: I was instantly disgusted, and I actually got very angry because I don't like seeing any xenophobic or racist comments.

FRAYER: Neither does Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton. He heads Britain's Hate Crimes Unit which received five times more reports of hate crime in the week after the Brexit vote.

MARK HAMILTON: Most of it falls into the categories of harassment, people shouting at people in the street. There have been some reports of internet-based hate crime and also then more sinister stuff such as assaults and so forth.

FRAYER: The question is whether Brexit has increased awareness of anti-immigrant sentiment or whether racist abuse has actually gone up. Hamilton says it's both.

HAMILTON: The Brexit has definitely created an increased awareness of hate crimes. So stuff that people would sometimes put up with, over the last week they have reported. Secondly, though, I do think it's fair to say that some people felt that the referendum vote gave them some sort of license to vent and demonstrate their own particular form of hate towards other people.

FRAYER: Police figures show the most frequent victims of hate crime before and after the referendum are Muslim women. At a secret location in Central London, Iman Abouatta runs Tell Mama, a group that tracks anti-Muslim attacks. Like the police, it's also seen an increase in reports of racist abuse.

FRAYER: Example would be shouting out in people's faces, Brexit, telling them, we voted you out; you should be kicked out; you're no longer welcome here.

FRAYER: The irony is that most Muslims in the U.K. are originally from Pakistan or Bangladesh. They're not EU migrants. Many are British citizens. It wasn't the EU that brought them here. It was the British Empire. Today the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke to the House of Lords.


JUSTIN WELBY: Since the referendum, we have seen an outwelling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years.

FRAYER: He said Brexit has cracked the thin crust of politeness and tolerance in this society, and he quoted the Bible, urging his countrymen to love one another and cease to tear at one another. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.