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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Bishops condemn rise in xenophobic attacks after Brexit vote

Catholic bishops have 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 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 23rd June, the day of the referendum on United Kingdom membership in the EU, and 26th June.

The figure represented a 57 per cent 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 on 28th June.

Far-right nationalists at a rally in Newcastle on 25th June unfurled a banner that demanded: ‘Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation’ and, on 28th June, 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 windows.

“My neighbours told me that they don’t want me living in this road and that they are not friends with foreigners,” she said.

“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.

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, told CNS 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 organisations,” 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.”

The Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, 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 on 27th June.

“We need to keep in mind the needs of all citizens, particularly those who may feel marginalised 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 per cent to withdraw from the bloc.

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.

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

Picture: Pro-European Union protesters gather on 28th June in London’s Trafalgar Square. (CNS photo/Paul Hackett, Reuters).