Racist attacks have spread across the UK. They seem to be the most intense in England, where the majority of people voted to leave the European Union.
Statistics and government sources show that the vote to ‘Leave’ has given license to xenophobia, hatred, and racism towards immigrants from some in the UK.
In London, two Polish immigrants were attacked while eating a takeaway pizza on a muggy night in Harlow. Witnesses say that, while two men chatted with each other, a group of young boys and girls approached them and kicked one of the men, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in the head. He and a second man were later hospitalised.
The same thing happened in Leeds. A 28-year old Polish man was attacked by the gang of up to 20 teenagers in Armley on Friday night. Four teenage boys were later arrested. The attack is being treated as racially aggravated due to comments made towards the victim.
Racism can be encountered directly or indirectly. This often leaves the victim without any physical damage, but instead – with shame and discredit, and feeling of being less important than others in society.
A 21-year-old Polish immigrant living in Leeds, Michal Godlewski has faced an example of it two months ago, while sitting on a bus and commuting to work.
“I have suffered from a racist attack, which felt to me rather psychological than physical.” – he said.
“When I was coming back home with my Polish friend two months ago, someone shouted at us for not speaking English in public spaces. That person was deliberately annoyed and had problems with the fact we were talking to each other in Polish.”
The suspect was born in England and was relatively young:
“He was probably born in England, but I’m not sure. I think he was a 15-year old teenager.”
He also mentioned knowledge of English as one of the reasons why it had happened to him:
“I live in the UK for more than one year and sometimes I hear about people from the UK who think foreigners are worse because they are not native speakers. I also think the fact that English is our second language and we struggle to communicate in different situations may be the reason of their aversion.”
He stated that while he didn’t encounter any major damages, he started to look at locals in a different way.
While asked why some people in the UK think the immigrants are worse than them, and if it affects him at all, Michal Godlewski said:
“Yes, sometimes it’s really annoying because you know, you live in this country, you try to improve your English every day, and you pay taxes in this country, and you just want to have a good life like everyone else. I think it’s not fair that in the 21st Century people are still racist towards each other, especially to foreigners.”
“I guess, I think that this [immigration] is one of the reasons Brexit has happened. I was living in the UK before Brexit and I didn’t have a situation like that.” – Michal Godlewski concluded.
Racist attacks seem to be intensively directed towards the Eastern European immigrants, and Polish citizens are amongst those who are the most affected. The Polish Embassy in London had expressed its shock and concern about xenophobic attacks after the Brexit vote.
However, the Embassy did not wish to directly provide an official statement in writing for purposes of the article.
Officials said that they are encouraging Polish citizens to report xenophobic incidents to local police and authorities.
Poles are one of the largest group of foreign born nationals living in Britain, with 831,000 of them in the country.
When the U.K. government began the Brexit process by triggering the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, European migrants with their families who work and live in the U.K. for a long time, became concerned that they would lose the right to remain in the country after leaving the European Union.
Huge, multinational retail companies such as Zara and Topshop tend to employ workers from within the EU. Some of them are afraid to lose rights to work after Brexit.
Although, Karol Wozniak, Zara UK Manager in Manchester thinks that the status of workers in his company is unlikely to change, even after the withdrawal:
“Many employees in our company are from the EU and they work here for a long time. Personally, I think the status of them will remain unchanged. Due to Brexit, our prices keep changing, and our customers question each other about what is going to happen next, the problems regarding the future, and more importantly – how it will be solved. Is it going to affect our business? I think the customers will keep coming to our store regardless of the ever-changing political situation.”