Racist and xenophobic violence rose in several of the 56 countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2007, according to official statistics and reports by expert bodies and nongovernmental monitors. Although comprehensive and systematic data collection systems are unavailable in most OSCE states, government monitoring systems in a number of countries showed moderate to high rises in the overall numbers of hate crimes in 2006 and 2007—the latest figures available. These include Finland, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Over a longer period of time—between 2000 and 2006—eight European countries experienced an upward trend in recorded racist crime: Denmark, Germany, France, Ireland, Slovakia, Finland, and the United Kingdom.
Information from nongovernmental monitors provided evidence of rising levels of racist violence in 2007 in Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Available figures may only be the tip of the iceberg, however. Media and NGO surveys suggest that in many cases violence was not being reported to or recorded by police. This assertion is bolstered by the 2007 European Crime and Safety Survey, which revealed high levels of hate crimes reported in 2007 by respondents of immigrant background in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, while there was no relevant official criminal justice data on racist violence and crime from these countries.
Cutting across religious and cultural divides, racism and xenophobia threaten communities distinguished by ethnic or national origin, including both national minorities and people of immigrant origin, citizens and non-citizens, long-time residents and newcomers.
People of African origin, regardless of their citizenship status, were subjected to some of the most persistent and serious attacks, and were among the principal victims of racist and xenophobic violence in Europe and North America. A series of incidents involving hangman’s nooses and burning crosses served as a reminder that racist intimidation and other hate crimes against African-Americans remain a serious problem—and that African Americans continue to be the largest group targeted for hate crime violence in the United States.
In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, people of African origin faced particularly virulent racism and violence. People of Asian origin also faced high levels of racist violence, with racism confronting South Asians often overlapping with and exacerbated by religious hatred and prejudice toward those of a Muslim background, or those perceived to be Muslim. Anti-Muslim violence is addressed in a separate section of the 2008 Hate Crime Survey: Violence Against Muslims.
In Western Europe, discrimination and violence targeted in particular the Afro-European descendants of people from the former European colonies in the Caribbean, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Roma and Sinti, who are often described as Europe’s largest minority, continued to be particular targets of discrimination and hate crime violence in their countries of citizenship and as immigrants. Immigrant Roma within the expanded European Union faced extraordinary violence in 2007 and 2008. Anti-Roma violence is addressed in a separate section of the 2008 Hate Crime Survey: Violence Against Roma.
Immigrants and citizens of recent immigrant origin face particular problems of racism and xenophobia throughout Europe and North America. Anti-immigrant bias is a form of prejudice and hatred founded on multiple forms of discrimination that can attack the physical appearance, religious affiliation, and cultural characteristics of the victims. Immigrants are often highly visible even in multicultural societies. Refugees and asylum seekers, especially those concentrated in small areas amidst largely homogenous populations, are particularly vulnerable to violent attacks.
In Western Europe, new trends of internal immigration in the expanded European Union have led to an increase in anti-immigrant discourse and violence directed at people from new member states of the E.U. Those targeted for vilification and violence included immigrant workers of Roma background and other immigrants of a wide range of ethnicities and national origins from the new E.U. member states.
In the most extreme examples of the new anti-immigrant discourse in Europe, immigrant groups were made scapegoats in 2007—2008 for social ills ranging from crime to unemployment. In Germany, Greece, and Switzerland, new strands of anti-immigrant scapegoating combined with manifestations of racist violence targeting immigrants. In Italy, anti-Roma rhetoric in concert with aggressive anti-immigration policies provided the backdrop for incidents of racist violence that occurred at a level unprecedented in recent history.
In the United States, recent debates on immigration have polarized society and provided the backdrop for a surge in reported violent assaults against people of Hispanic origin, both citizens and immigrants, in the last several years.