The number of hate crimes against Britons of ethnic or religious minorities soared around the time the UK voted to quit the European Union and in the aftermath of recent attacks, according to a government report.
The Home Office said on Tuesday the 29 percent rise in a year marked the biggest annual jump in hate crimes since figures were first recorded in 2011. Between 2015 and 2016, there were 62,518 reported offences. The following year, that number rose to 80,393.
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There was “a genuine rise in hate crime around the time of the EU referendum”, the report said, referring to the Brexit referendum.
Religious or racially aggravated offences rose in the months leading up to the vote, from about 3,500 recorded incidents in April 2016 to more than 5,000 in June of the same year, when the decision to leave the EU was announced. In June 2017, reported hate crimes peaked at 6,000.
The Home Office said figures rose in the wake of the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, which took place in March, May, and June of this year respectively, together claiming more than 30 lives.
Hate crimes and Islamophobia tend to rise after violence where suspects are said to be Muslim, with followers of the Islamic faith suffering collective punishment.
Muslim women targeted
Muslim women suffer disproportionately, said Ragad Altikriti, a senior member of the Muslim Association of Britain.
“Statistics have proven that hate crimes against Muslims increase significantly around terrorist attacks,” she told Al Jazeera.
“[And] Brexit was considered to many as a signal that refugees are not welcomed … [so] there was an increase in hate crimes including the Muslim community, especially women who are visibly Muslims. The headscarf was conflated with being foreign and not welcomed.”
Zainab Mir, 21, became a victim earlier this year.
“I was travelling on the Tube when a lady stood up and pointed at me. She shouted ‘you’re the reason this country is terrorised’,” Mir told Al Jazeera. “It was a very busy train, but only the guy next to me asked If I was OK. Nobody else said anything.”
Despite reporting the incident, police told Mir there was no CCTV footage, and they were unable to pursue the case. The experience has made her feel uneasy, she said.
“I didn’t feel very safe afterwards; I always made sure I was with someone and didn’t go anywhere I didn’t need to. Even now I’m still more aware of people around me because I don’t want it to happen again. I’m definitely more vigilant,” she said.
Some 30 percent of religiously motivated offences in the last year involved violence against the victim, the Home Office said.
An attack on London’s Finsbury Park Mosque on June 19, in which a van driver targeted Muslims, left one dead and 11 injured.
“There are criminals and attackers on every side,” Altikriti told Al Jazeera. “Muslims were able to say ‘we can be victims too’, and it forced those in power to think about the country’s Muslim population and consider how the rise in hate crime has affected them.”
The UK is home to 2.8 million Muslims.
Samina Ansari, 37, has been attacked three separate times over the past 10 years.
From being attacked in her car at a red light by “two white men with a pitbull [dog] on a metal lead” almost nine years ago, to having “ISIS” shouted at her and her nine-year-old son on a street in Glasgow last week, Ansari said she suffers from long-term effects.
“You end up reliving each one of the incidents and that experience. I have felt quite violated, and at points, it took a toll on my mental well-being,” she told Al Jazeera.
Political events such as the EU referendum and the election of US President Donald Trump, who is seen as an Islamophobe, have had an effect, Ansari said.
“Hate crime has always been there, but it’s almost like the state of our politics, following the Brexit vote and election of Trump, have given people a license to become more vicious in their attacks,” she said. “Muslim women seem to be the primary target.”