Particularly pernicious patterns of violence and intimidation in many parts of Europe and North America are driven by racism and xenophobia. Members of minority groups may be victimized because of the color of their skin or other physical attributes, while such prejudice is sometimes exacerbated by religious intolerance or cultural stereotypes.
The principal victims of racist and xenophobic violence are often described as members of “visible minorities,” although this term may be misleading. Even a minority that is not easily distinguished by physical features may stand out as “different” because of language, religion, and a variety of other cultural indicators.
In the 2008 annual report, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency noted that its national contact points “continue to indicate that visible minorities in Europe, such as Black Africans, Roma, or Muslim women wearing headscarves, are disproportionately vulnerable to racist victimization,” taking into account their relatively low numbers in the population.
In many cases, discrimination against particular groups combines racism and xenophobia with hatred and prejudice founded on religious intolerance. Distinguishing the forms of discrimination faced by some communities as predominantly driven by either racism or religious bias is sometimes neither possible nor particularly helpful in countering these forms of discrimination.
An overlay of multiple forms of discrimination is present in prejudice and hatred toward immigrants, where fear of the foreign or unknown—a standard definition of xenophobia—blurs together prejudice against differences in appearance, culture, religion, and other factors. But the same combination of biases is also present with regard to national minorities and other communities that may stand out in their own countries.
Gender bias, too, often combines with racism and xenophobia. Women may be attacked because their customs and dress do not fit gender stereotypes. At times, racist assaults take particularly vicious and gender-specific forms. Women are frequently attacked because their particular gender-specific forms of dress—such as the Islamic ħijāb or the long dresses worn by many Roma—are taken as a symbol of difference, or of defiance. In numerous reported cases of racist and religiously motivated attacks in Europe, assailants have shouted obscenities at Muslim women and attempted to tear off their headscarves.
In many countries, and notably in countries of the former Yugoslavia, members of national minorities are similar in appearance and share a common ancestry. But distinct communities within a country or region, defined by custom, language, and religion rather than ethnicity, may be no less “visible” and susceptible to become targets for racist violence.
Attacks motivated because an individual was perceived to be a member of a hated group were also frequently based on misconceptions that underscored the broad reach of racism. Non-Muslim people of South Asian origin, including Sikhs and Hindus, have been targeted—particularly in the United States—by attackers shouting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim epithets. Others suffered antisemitic or other bias attacks because they were mistaken for Jews, immigrants, or other “visible minorities.” In one case, a Russian prosecutor accounted for a hate attack on a Russian citizen who appeared to be dark-skinned by explaining “in the nighttime, due to lack of natural and artificial lighting,” the victim was simply “mistaken for a non-Slav.” 
The rise in racist and xenophobic violence in the region has been reported in the context of widespread harassment and intimidation of minority populations through both physical and symbolic means. A range of symbols and slogans have emerged within the specific national contexts of particular countries or regions, from “Russia for the Russians” and “Germany for the Germans” to the more adaptable slogan “Foreigners Out”—a variation on the emblematic antisemitic slogan of German Nazism, “Juden Raus/Jews Out.”
The symbols of German Nazism were used to send a message of hatred and exclusion to members of a broad range of religious and ethnic minorities, even as they retained their particular antisemitic significance when targeting Jewish families and communities. Modern-day adherents of racial supremacy theories painted swastikas on refugee hostels, the offices of human rights organizations, and foreign students’ housing, as well as on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim graves. Combined with the swastikas daubed on homes, memorials, community institutions, and schools, these manifestations of hatred sent a chilling message to all who stand outside the chauvinist ideal of extreme nationalists.
Across the OSCE region, anti-immigrant and anti-minority aggression led to incidents of extreme violence and everyday harassment and intimidation. Racist violence often took the form of persistent abuse that held families and whole communities in a pervasive state of fear, even if most abuse fell short of serious threats to life. This was the kind of “low level and mundane racism,” that regularly went unreported, and when reported, often went without response. But even low-level violence that persisted day after day—egg throwing, broken windows, threatening graffiti, and verbal abuse—brought with it an implicit threat of more serious violence and crime.
In many cases, police remained unaware of hate crime incidents. A serious shortcoming lies in the failure, sometimes due to unwillingness, of law enforcement agencies to establish relations with particular minority communities, resulting in many crimes not being reported to the authorities. Similarly, some police agencies also fail to appropriately record the evidence of bias attacks when victims do in fact come forward.