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Comment: Stop downplaying the experience of racism in Scotland

As a charity directly helping vulnerable refugees, migrants and minorities we call on public bodies to STOP downplaying the experience of racism in Scotland. Racist and religious hate crime is by far the most prevalent of ALL hate crimes in Scotland and we are sick and tired of this issue not being accorded the high priority it deserves.

When racist incidents go up we routinely hear the police explain that Scotland’s BME communities are feeling ‘more confident’ about reporting racism. When the figures take a slight dip, the explanation is that things are ‘getting better’. If the same complacent explanation of ‘confidence in reporting’ was used to describe a significant increase in crimes of rape and sexual assault there would be a public outcry. This is lazy repetitive thinking done without consultation with front-line grass roots charities with a diversity of refugee, migrant and BME communities.

The walls of tabloid hate line the shelves of Scottish newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations every day, reinforcing prejudice and hatred of minority groups. The internet drip-feeds viral racist content onto people’s mobile phones – radicalising with race hatred. There is zero mention of a criminal’s racial background when they are white, but constant mentions of the criminal’s background when they are black, Asian or a refugee. Our society is obsessed with crimes committed by minority groups. The overwhelming majority of UK sex criminals are white males, yet the BBC TV documentary on the Rochdale grooming scandal was mentioned in court as a motivation for the Finsbury Park killer’s pathological hatred of Muslims.

We need up-to-date accurate crime statistics and analysis, and those regarding potential racial bias in ‘Stop & Search’ policies are either out of date, non existent or simply not detailed enough. The Scottish Government needs to badly take note of our frustrations with this.
We believe the race crime figures are being misinterpreted or not analysed at all, allowing institutions to sit on their hands – taking no action on a growing problem.

Minorities regularly use avoidance tactics to bypass racism, or don’t speak-up in case they lose their job. Refugees and asylum seekers routinely accept racism as part of the experience of fleeing persecution. They have come to accept inequality and are not reporting it or challenging it. People are going under the radar in order not to be singled-out and targeted. In fact, people are apologising for asking for equality of resources and human rights in the first place and feel obliged to explain why they need equal treatment – terrified of being accused of wanting “special treatment” by merely trying to secure equality.

Scotland’s First Minister has taken a good first step by speaking-out against Theresa May’s racist and unlawful anti-immigrant campaign. Utilising the fear of foreigners to distract from her own unpopularity, May’s “hostile environment” for immigrants is affecting everyone, not just the illusive “illegal immigrant”.

Borders are with us in everyday situations – schools, social work departments, the NHS, GPs and workplaces. A pregnant British woman with a ‘foreign-sounding name’ received a threatening letter from a hospital questioning her residency and right to receive free NHS treatment. Soon it could be in rented housing – people are being eyed with suspicion as potential tenants already if they “don’t look British” – even if they are UK citizens . Who could forget when Theresa May as Home Secretary spearheaded the “Go Home” vans, aeroplanes and posters in the Home Office in Brand Street Govan telling victims of persecution that they could return “home” if they find destitution tough. “Get back to where you came from” and “go home P***” are the routine taunts I remember from a childhood in Glasgow. And here was a Home Secretary emulating that racism in this campaign she later referred to as “too blunt an instrument”. Who could forget the criminal incompetence of 100,000 letters left unopened in a back room of the Home Office? These were registered post, urgent recorded delivery letters, from MPs, lawyers, churches and GPs, regarding important asylum applications. The world class human rights and refugee protections that were put in place in the post War refugee crisis of the 1930s and 1940s , in a spirit of “Never Again” are today being torn to shreds and disrespected under May’s watch. A Zero Human Rights declaration beckons.

23 years ago, we were successfully campaigning for development funding and strong policies for safe and affordable ethnic minority housing. The then Scottish Homes announced an £8M fund to develop specialist housing for ethnic minorities. Today, that’s a distant memory, and we are instead developing fast online resources to practically help our caseworkers and other refugee and homelessness and aid organisations across Scotland and elsewhere in the UK to prevent street destitution of refugee and migrant children, women and men on a daily basis. Picking up the gaps in support of Theresa May’s “hostile” environment. What could never be imagined then is today normalised. We are very much defending minorities, refugees and migrants basic human rights. The prospect of effectively challenging racism and lack of representation in our institutions seems like a distant memory.

It is not enough to patch up racism by slogans and mere words, or by saying “Refugees Welcome” and giving out tea and sympathy. Feel-good campaigns on social media, with trendy slogans, do not fix racism or homelessness or inequality. Scotland’s minorities need adequate structures, proper resources, real representation – and accurate statistics setting out the experiences of minorities in our society.

Robina Qureshi

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