Racism and xenophobia victimize a wide range of communities across Europe and North America by reason of their origins, and the color of their skin. These communities under threat, often distinguished by their ethnic or national origin, include both national minorities and people of immigrant origin, citizens and noncitizens, longtime residents and newcomers. Among them are Roma and Sinti, often described as Europe’s largest minority—a people whose situation is touched upon here but whose unique circumstances are addressed in a separate section in this survey on Violence Against Roma. Racism is also a factor in antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias that combines with religious hatred and prejudice. These issues, too, are discussed in separate sections on Antisemitic Violence and Violence Against Muslims.
Whether citizens or noncitizens, people of African origin stand out as among the principal subjects of racism and xenophobia in many parts of Europe and North America. In the United States, African American citizens continued to represent the largest group of victims of hate crime violence—a legacy of systemic state sanctioned discrimination that began to be remedied only in the 1960s. In Western Europe, citizens of African origin, many of them descended from the people of former colonies, faced ongoing discrimination and violence.
In parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, small populations of citizens and immigrants of African origin were highly visible and often vulnerable targets of racism and xenophobia. In the Russian Federation and Ukraine, where relatively few people of African origin reside, the rate of violence was extraordinary: African refugees, students, visitors, and the handful of citizens and permanent residents of African origin lived under constant threat of violence.
Numerous incidents of hate crime violence against people of African origin were reported throughout the region.
In September 2007, attackers in Tartu, Estonia, threw stones at a dark-skinned French student. Although the head of an association of foreign students there said the incident was part of a larger problem of neo-Nazi violence, a local police officer downplayed the incident, claiming foreign students in the past two years had been caught up in only a few cases of “robbery, fights, or insults.”
In Germany, numerous serious attacks on people of African origin were reported throughout 2007 and 2008.
- On May 24, 2008 in Viersen, in North Rhine-Westphalia, four men with shaved heads and wearing bomber jackets approached a man of African origin, threatened him with knives and an iron rod, and then beat him.
- On March 2, 2008, in Berlin, a 20-year-old woman yelling racial slurs pushed a dark-skinned man into the path of an oncoming train. The 19-year-old victim, assisted by two people, was able to jump up from the tracks in time.
- On October 20, 2007, in Berlin Spandau, a group of young men harassed and beat an African-American; four men were arrested and an investigation was reportedly opened.
- In June 2007, in Berlin, three attackers assaulted a man of African origin at a subway station and knocked him off the platform; the victim suffered head injuries and was in a coma for several days.
An acquittal was reported in June 2008, in Potsdam, for an April 2006 attack on a man of Ethiopian origin. This was one of the most widely reported incidents in the lead-up to Germany’s hosting of the World Cup that year and had precipitated a national and international debate on racist violence in the country.
In the Russian Federation, despite the small number of people of African origin, foreign students have been particularly vulnerable to attacks.
- In October 2007, in Moscow, an assailant stabbed and seriously injured Cameroonian Vansi Jeanu. Police said a young man had been detained in relation to the attack, which was similarly being investigated as act of hooliganism.
- On February 4, 2007, in Saint Petersburg, attackers described as skinheads assaulted a postgraduate student from Cameroon at a metro station, causing serious injuries requiring hospitalization. Prosecutors said the attack was under investigation as hooliganism.
In Bratislava, Slovakia, in March 2007, attackers knocked a Nigerian man to the ground reportedly shouting obscenities. The nongovernmental organization People Against Racism (PAR) reported that when police arrived and the man pointed out his attackers, the police officers told him to “shut up.”
The Swiss Foundation Against Racism and Antisemitism, in the annual review on racism in Switzerland, reported that the principal victims of racist violence were Muslims, people of African origin, and Jews. Incidents included 15 personal assaults, 5 cases of arson or use of gunfire, 6 of harassment or threats, and 12 of vandalism. The foundation’s 2006 report said that one-third of hate crime cases recorded concerned people of African origin.
- On May 1, 2007, in a Zurich suburb, unknown men shouting obscenities about Africans attacked Antonio da Costa, a 43-year-old refugee from Angola. The attackers used chainsaws to rake da Costa’s face, neck, and chest, nearly severing his left thumb, and severely slashing one arm; he required six hours of emergency surgery. There were reportedly no arrests, although a prosecutor said video surveillance footage was being used in the investigation.
- In Thun, on January 28, 2007, six skinheads assaulted and injured three young people, including a 22-year-old Swiss citizen of African origin, who was told that he had no business being in Switzerland. Police arrived but made no arrests; in April, 2008, a 23-year-old with a record of political extremism was fined for involvement in the attack.
The African community in Kyiv, Ukraine had already held four funerals for victims of racially motivated violence in the first half of 2008, following the murders of a Nigerian, a Sierra Leonean, and two Congolese immigrants in the course of the year. One victim’s funeral turned into a march against racism. In an act of protest over the worsening conditions for foreigners in Ukraine, friends and family of the brutally murdered Gbenda-Charles Victor Tator of Sierra Leone walked in a procession through the streets of Kyiv from the morgue to the cemetery.
In the United Kingdom, people of African origin continued to be targeted for extreme violence. On May 13, 2007, in Garston, England, four men shouting racial epithets attacked 21-year-old Marlon Moran, who was of mixed race, with a metal bar, a cleaver, sticks, and knives. Moran was killed by a knife wound to the stomach. Four suspects were tried for murder aggravated by racism in November 2007; one was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on the lesser charge of manslaughter and the three others were released. In the course of the trial, Moran’s family protested that in the aftermath of the murder they suffered constant racial harassment and threats.
In the United States, people of African descent are most likely to become victims of hate crimes, in line with longstanding patterns of violent hate crimes. The annual hate crime survey produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), covering 2006, reported 3,332 victims of antiblack bias crimes, in 2,640 incidents. This represented 66.4 percent of the victims of racial bias crimes, and some 34.5 percent of the 9,652 victims of hate crimes overall. Antiblack bias crimes were also predominantly violent crimes against persons, in contrast to crimes against property.
Immigrants and citizens of immigrant origin face particular problems of racism and xenophobia. Singled out because of race or ethnicity, language, culture, and often religion, immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants are often highly visible even in multicultural societies.
Official classifications and data collection agencies often describe members of many minority populations in Europe as “of immigrant origin,” although many of them are descendants of people that came to Europe generations ago. Racist and xenophobic prejudices indiscriminately victimize people regardless of their official citizenship or residency status.
Discrimination and racist violence against immigrant foreign nationals is generally both underreported and underrecorded. Many immigrants, both legal and illegal, have fears of encounters with police and public authorities. People without or with uncertain legal residence status may fear that reporting will not only result in retaliation on behalf of the attackers, but will also draw the attention of immigration services, set in motion by the very authorities from which they seek protection. Accordingly, people with no legal residence status are far more likely to suffer discrimination and violence in silence.
In Germany, members of the large Turkish minority—both German citizens and non-nationals—faced harassment and violence in many parts of the country. People of African and South Asian origin were also among the targets of persistent and sometimes extreme violence there. Foreign-owned shops were targeted for vandalism and arson; members of minorities were attacked in the street, at public events, and on public transport. In the state of Brandenburg alone, according to the NGO Gesicht Zeigen (Show Your Faces!), there were eleven recorded attacks on immigrant-run businesses, as part of what a representative of the organization called “a strategy to destroy livelihoods and drive out immigrants.” Members of minorities in Germany are routinely referred to as Ausländer (“foreigners”) regardless of their actual citizenship status.
In Ireland, official hate crime monitors and the media reported increased hate crime attacks on immigrants, including immigrant workers from Eastern European countries newly admitted to the European Union. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) said that “the most significant victims of racist incidents were black African males,” with others targeted including people of Asian origin and members of the Traveller community. Half of the incidents were reported in the Dublin area.
In one case in Dublin, on March 14, 2008, a group of youths attacked Cida Jeangros, a 30-year-old Brazilian woman, subjecting her to racist verbal abuse and beating and kicking her. There was no effort to rob the woman—the intent appeared simply to do harm. Jeangros said she had previously been subjected to verbal abuse, and that many migrant workers live in fear of attacks in Dublin.
In Latvia, anti-immigrant discourse was accompanied by racist attacks on immigrants belonging to visible minorities. Although Latvia has adopted legal provisions imposing more serious sentences for bias-motivated crimes, there is little evidence that these amendments are being applied with vigor. In June 2007, a Riga City Court gave suspended sentences to two convicted men, characterized as neo-Nazis, for attacking a Brazilian woman with a bottle while shouting xenophobic expletives.
A major concern in Latvia, identified by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in a 2007 report, is “the widespread denial of the problem of racist violence both on the part of the public and the authorities.” Latvian authorities “tend to remain indifferent and/or undermine the problem by speaking of “isolated cases” without recognizing or being aware of the real number of violent manifestations of intolerance in the country.”
In the United States, although the largest number of reported hate crimes continues to be committed against African-Americans, a dramatic rise in anti-immigrant violence accompanied a new mainstreaming of anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears. The rising violence was reflected both in the media reporting and in the statistical data available from annual national hate crime statistics.
The Southern Poverty Law Center revealed a 35 percent rise in hate crimes against people of Hispanic origin between 2003 and 2006, based on an analysis of FBI crime reports. The incidents reported ranged from violent assaults to vandalism and arson. For example, on October 8, 2007, in Omaha, Nebraska, arsonists set fire to vehicles owned by a family of Hispanic origin, while spray-painting two cars with white power slogans and a swastika.
In San Diego, California, Deputy District Attorney Oscar Garcia, who specializes in hate crime prosecutions, confirmed that Hispanic Americans were being expressly targeted, with illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens alike victimized in his district. Places at which migrant workers gather to meet employers were particular targets of racist abuse: “day labor sites seem to attract hate mongers who use that as an excuse and hide behind the flag and claim they’re merely trying to express political views.” According to official statistics from the state of California, anti-Hispanic offenses increased over 7 percent, from 218 in 2006 to 234 in 2007.
There were also important cases in the United States in which serious hate crimes led to prosecutions and heavy sentences. Two young men were sentenced in December 2007 for the April 22, 2006 attack near Houston, Texas, on Mexican-American teenager David Ritcheson, who was tortured and verbally abused. The attackers broke his jaw, burned him with cigarettes, attempted to carve a swastika in his chest, and poured bleach on him. The most severe injuries were caused when they violently sodomized Ritcheson with a patio umbrella pole. Ritcheson was hospitalized and required thirty surgeries for his injuries, but never fully recovered from the physical and psychological trauma of the attack. He subsequently collaborated with the Anti-Defamation League in creating an anti-hate program at his high school, and one year after the attack testified before the U.S. House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee in hearings concerning the strengthening of federal hate crime laws. Three months later David Ritcheson committed suicide. The accused were sentenced to life imprisonment and ninety years, respectively, for aggravated sexual assault; an appeal by one of the defendants was dismissed in March 2008.
The expansion of the European Union coincided with racist violence that reflected new patterns of immigration from new member states to other parts of the E.U. At the same time, the new members of the European Union should be held to the E.U. standards in their response to longstanding patterns of racist violence.
On November 24, 2007, in Zlin, in the Czech Republic, three young men described as skinheads shouted racist insults and attacked Sri Lankan student Pradeep Manohara Mahadura as he waited with friends at a bus stop. He was beaten and knocked to the ground and then kicked in the stomach and head before a passerby intervened to help.
In Ireland, violence against immigrants from Eastern European E.U. states was on the rise, while the criminal justice system has yet to include provisions for penalty enhancement even for the most serious bias crimes.
- On February 22, 2008, in the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh, Polish migrant workers Marius Szwajkos and Pawel Kalite were murdered by a group of youths, suffering lethal stab wounds in the head and throat. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who was on a state visit to Poland at the time of the killings, called the killings a result of “hooliganism,” while the families of the victims said it would probably “never be known” if they were motivated by xenophobia or racism. A 17-year-old and a 19-year-old were charged in relation to the two murders.
In Kosice, Slovakia, on November 21, 2007, three men shouting Nazi slogans reportedly attacked a 16-year-old girl of Cuban background. The girl suffered injuries to the head, back, and right arm. A police spokeswoman said: “first they knocked the girl down to the ground. Then all the three started kicking and beating her up, shouting ‘Sieg heil’ and ‘clear off Slovakia’ at her.”
In the United Kingdom, attacks on Poles, Lithuanians, and other immigrants from the new E.U. member states became a major new component of hate crime violence, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with one racist murder reported in 2007 in Wales.
- On February 3, 2007, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Polish construction worker Patryk Mnich was attacked and beaten in a xenophobic attack causing him severe head injuries and permanent disability. His assailant was charged with inflicting injuries causing permanent impairment and attempted murder. In September 2007, he was sentenced to seven and a half years of imprisonment; although the accused had reportedly called Mnich a “Polish bastard,” a jury rejected a charge that the assault was bias-aggravated.
In June 2007, police in Edinburgh said that following the attack on Patryk Mnich they were receiving an average of three reports of hate crime attacks daily, with continuing attacks on Polish and other Eastern European workers representing a high proportion of the attacks. Police said they had dealt with 1,022 racist incidents in the Lothian and Borders regions, which includes Edinburgh, in the 12 months up to April 1, 2008, which was twice the rate of incidents recorded three years before. More than a third of the 900 race hate crimes in Edinburgh took place in the city center, and most of those involved Eastern European victims.
- In August, in Wales, Glasgow resident Thomas Blue killed Adam Michalski, a Polish immigrant, while shouting xenophobic and racial slurs. Blue was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum 17-year term.
In June 2007, Edinburgh police said that because of the rising numbers of incidents they were considering establishing a system through which Polish victims of hate crimes could report incidents to police anonymously through third parties at a Polish community center there. A report drawing upon media monitoring of hate crimes in the U.K., prepared on behalf of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, documented 50 incidents in 2007 in which Polish immigrants were assaulted. The author of the report, Wiktor Moszczyński, said the assaults occurred “primarily in small towns and in the countryside,” but cited the London Metropolitan police force as having reported that “48 hate crimes against Poles were committed between December 2006 and November 2007.” Many assaults, however, went unreported.
In February 2007, the government of Lithuania announced that it would be establishing a consulate in Northern Ireland to respond to rising attacks on immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Lithuanian ambassador to the U.K., Vygaudas Usackas, said that 64 attacks on Lithuanians had been reported in Northern Ireland within the past year.
- On April 20, 2008, unknown attackers in Cookstown, County Tyrone, threw a petrol-bomb at the home of Lithuanian immigrants; two men and two women escaped unharmed. Also in April, unknown attackers threw fireworks and bricks through the bedroom window of a Polish couple in Drumahoe, forcing them to flee. In mid-May, two cars belonging to a Bulgarian family living in Portballintrae were set alight, in what was described as the latest incident in a series of “attacks on the homes, cars and businesses of newcomers.” On June 12, 2008, unidentified assailants threw bricks and paint at a house in which two Polish families live.
An April 2007 study of new patterns of migration to Northern Ireland concludes that racism continues to rise and remains a problem “for all of the different minority ethnic and national communities in Belfast” and is continuing to increase; “while the police data provides some indication of the scale of the problem and some serious incidents get reported in the media, much of the low level and ‘mundane’ racism is not reported.”
The new patterns of anti-immigrant violence have received attention by police and policy makers in the United Kingdom, where detailed monitoring and statistical reporting is the norm. However, similar hate crime incidents are likely occurring elsewhere in Western Europe where governments do not make a similar effort to document and report on such incidents. Although these new immigrants do not stand out dramatically from the majority population because of skin color, their “difference”is sufficient to make them readily identifiable targets for racist violence.
Politicians across Europe capitalized on growing public xenophobia, contributing to anti-immigrant rhetoric and blaming immigrants for political, economic, and social problems. In a number of countries, social and political problems were blamed with new vigor on immigrant workers, including those from within the expanded European Union, and in particular on members of the Roma minority. Anti-immigrant scapegoating in Italy, Germany, Greece, and Switzerland received national and international attention.
In Italy, extraordinary anti-immigrant sentiment exploded into violence toward Romanian immigrants and Roma in general in October 2007. The violence was triggered by the shocking murder of 47-year-old Giovanna Reggiani, for which a Roma man of Romanian nationality was the main suspect. The government responded with roundups of Romanian immigrants and summary expulsions of some two hundred Roma migrants, in violation of E.U. immigration policy. The Mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni blamed the increase in violent crime overall on the recent immigration of Romanian Roma, asserting that “before the entry of Romania into the European Union, Rome was the safest city in the world.”
Racist violence in the backlash to the murder of Giovanna Reggiani included a November 2, 2007 attack on Roma living in improvised shelters in a parking lot near the scene of the murder. Up to eight attackers seriously injured three Romanians with metal bars and knives; one of the injured had deep stab wounds in his back.
The violence again surged in early 2008. In May 2008, following claims that a Roma teenager had attempted to kidnapped a child, mobs targeted Roma communities for arson attacks even as police rounded up immigrants for summary deportations. Mobs burned Roma communities to the ground as police stood by in the Naples area, forcing hundreds of Roma to flee. Not only Roma were caught up in the anti-immigrant campaign. On May 23, 2008, gangs of youths armed with iron bars and baseball bats rampaged through the fashionable and multicultural Rome district of Pigneto shouting “get out, bastard foreigners.” The attackers, wearing bandanas blazoned with swastikas and ski masks, smashed the windows of Indian and Bangladeshi-owned shops and beat shopkeepers. The minority owners of shops and such establishments as launderettes and phone centers expressed fear that further assaults could be expected.
In Germany, a heinous criminal act committed by two immigrants gave national impetus to xenophobia and racist violence. A 20-year-old Turkish man and a 17-year-old Greek immigrant were arrested for a December 20, 2007, assault on a 76-year-old German pensioner on the Munich subway. The attackers, both of whom had long police records, verbally abused and physically harmed the victim.
The premier of Hesse state, Roland Koch, a leading member of Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s government, seized upon the subway incident to catalyze a national debate focusing on the involvement of young non-citizens in violent crime. Koch’s declaration that “we have too many criminal young foreigners” was championed by the media, while the statement that “foreigners who don’t stick to our rules don’t belong here” was widely reproduced by advocates of the mass deportations of foreigners. This pointed to a key problem of integration into German society: the convention by which members of ethnic minorities in Germany “are still widely labeled ‘foreigners’ even if they were born in Germany, even if they have German passports, and especially if they are dark-skinned.”
A series of particularly severe hate crime incidents became the object of national debate and international attention in Germany in the midst of the anti-immigrant debate. Despite the attention given to serious cases involving potentially lethal mob violence, few arrests were reported, and prosecutors in the most notorious cases tended to bring charges only for minor offences resulting in fines.
On August 19, 2007, in Mügeln, Saxony, eight Indian nationals attending a town festival were severely beaten by a mob of some fifty young men shouting “foreigners out” and “Germany for the Germans.” Upon seeking shelter in a pizza parlor, the mob attacked the restaurant, breaking the windows, and assaulting the Indians. The incident triggered widespread outrage, with photographs of the bruised faces of Indian men appearing in all major media. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack was “extremely grim and shameful,” adding that “it is not acceptable for people in German cities to be chased through the streets and beaten.” She pledged to place the issue high on the agenda of a strategy session of the governing coalition the same day.
Local officials downplayed the racist nature of the attack; both local and national officials were mostly concerned with the possible negative impact that the incident could have on the international reputation of Saxony and Germany. A government spokesman declared that racist incidents were harmful to Germany’s image abroad. Gotthard Deuss, the mayor, insisted that “there are no known right-wing extremists here,” and questioned whether there really could be “a far-right background to this incident.” He had, however, reportedly been warned in advance that neo-Nazis planned to disrupt the festival. The regional police chief, Bernd Merbitz, was slightly more open to the incident having constituted a hate crime, saying: “we are investigating all possible motives, including the possibility that this was an act aimed at foreigners.”
Despite the prolonged violence of the incident, and the serious injuries and damage caused, prosecutors mainly focused on hate speech in arguing the case before the court. Charges were brought against only four men. In November, an 18-year-old suspect tried in a closed hearing by a Leipzig court admitted to “xenophobic comments” during the attack and was fined €1,800. Two others were fined for shouting xenophobic slogans. In December, a fourth suspect, charged with leading the mob, was convicted of racial incitement and property damage, and was sentenced to eight months imprisonment. A special 16-member police task force had been set up to investigate the incident.
The Mügeln incident was extraordinary because of the size of the mob involved, and the numbers of the victims. On the same night, August 19, 2007, racists attacked two other immigrants who stood out because of the color of their skin at a town festival in Guntersblum, near Mainz. A Sudanese man, who was working at the festival, was hit on the head with a wine bottle and knocked to the ground; an Egyptian co-worker who sought to help the victim was also cut with a broken bottle, losing one finger. More blatantly racist attacks were reported in three German towns on August 24. Unknown attackers set a dog on an Iraqi man at a tram stop in Magdeberg, and beat him with a baseball bat; others attacked a Ghanaian man in Braunschweig. Also on the same night, a mob in Bützow of some 40 people attacked market stalls and a business owned by a resident of Pakistani origin.
In the aftermath of the Mügeln incident, calls for increased action against extremist violence came from broad sectors of society. Stephan Kramer, the secretary general of the Central Council of Jews, spoke out about the “apparently dangerous situation” in certain parts of Eastern Germany where foreigners were under attack, adding: “yesterday, it was people of color, today it’s foreigners, and tomorrow it could be gays and lesbians, or, perhaps, Jews.”
In Greece, senior officials in 2007 blamed Roma communities and immigrants for an overall rise in crimes. In December 2007, Supreme Court Prosecutor George Sanidas offered a generalization identifying the perpetrators of crime in one section of Athens as “foreign women of African and non-African origin” and “athinganoi” (a pejorative word for Roma). The ensuing police crackdown in central Athens led to what the Greek Helsinki Monitor group described as harassment of “African women and Roma street vendors.” Robert Varenik of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which combats ethnic and racial profiling in Europe, called the chief prosecutor’s accusations “unprofessional and inexcusable.”
In the context of official discourse blaming immigrants and Roma for crime, a series of incidents were reported in Athens, in which migrant workers were the victims of organized attacks by extremist anti-immigration militants. On December 1, 2007, some twenty-five attackers described as extreme rightists assaulted the house of a group of Pakistani migrants in the Athens suburb of Aigaleo, seriously injuring five. The attackers broke windows and gained entry by kicking down a door, and then used clubs, crowbars, and knives in the assault. This was reportedly the fourth such attack on migrant housing in Athens in the last quarter of 2007. A demonstration protesting the attacks was held in Aigaleo in December. A further incident was nevertheless reported in the second week of January, 2008: attackers threw rocks at a ground-floor residence of Pakistani immigrants, breaking windows.
In May 2008, a dozen or more attackers reportedly broke into a building used as an unofficial mosque by the Pakistani Community in the Rendi section of Athens, beating with sticks Pakistani worshippers and a Greek neighbor who protested. The beatings were reportedly accompanied by epithets demanding that “Pakistanis get out of Greece.”
The Hellenic League for Human Rights reported a steady increase in 2007 in racist attacks on immigrants and other minorities, while condemning what it said was the indifference of Greek law enforcement bodies toward the attacks.
In Switzerland, the run-up to the October 2007 parliamentary elections was marked by a vicious anti-immigrant campaign that was denounced by human rights groups and some political leaders as blatantly racist. In August, the Swiss People’s Party placed posters across the country and in the media, depicting cartoon figures of three immaculate white sheep on a Swiss map, kicking a black sheep out of the country. The poster was expressly aimed at supporting a new party platform to throw “foreign criminals” out of Switzerland. President Micheline Calmy-Rey denounced the posters and the broader campaign as “racist,” and intended “to stir up hatred.” The Swiss Federal Commission against Racism, in a study released in December 2007, said the campaign had propagated stereotypes of foreign nationals and ethnic minorities as the perpetrators of crime, as violent, as having no respect for the law, and as incapable of integrating into Swiss society. The vice president of the commission, Boël Sambuc, said the election campaign had turned into a “black-white debate.” In the context of the new anti-immigrant discourse, racist attacks on people of African origin rose, and refugees and asylum seekers of all origins were under renewed threat through several attacks on asylum seekers’ housing.
In a range of countries, refugees and asylum and refugee seekers were among the principal targets of racist and religiously motivated violence. These immigrants often were distinguished by their appearance, language, religion and customs, particularly in largely homogenous societies. Their vulnerability increased when they were concentrated in a few cities and neighborhoods determined by the policies of national and local authorities, especially when placed in highly visible concentrations in public housing. People living in such areas were in some cases ill-protected against racist harassment and violence. Attacks on individuals and places of residence, such as refugee hostels, were recorded in various parts of Western Europe.
In Germany, in March, 2007, two unknown attackers in Cottbus, Brandenburg, shouted racial epithets and physically attacked two asylum seekers from Chad and Cameroon.
In Asker, Norway, on July 18, 2008, a gunman repeatedly fired at an accommodation center for asylum seekers, which houses fifteen to eighteen youths. A 16-year-old Somali refugee was severely wounded by a projectile that penetrated the wall of the room in which he was sleeping. No arrests were reported.
In Spain, the Spanish Commission to Aid Refugees (CEAR) reported three hundred racist attacks in 2006, mostly on people of immigrant origin, and spoke out on continuing racist attacks during 2007 and 2008. The Valencia office of CEAR was attacked repeatedly in 2007 after having been vandalized three times in 2006. On February 3, 2007, unknown assailants attacked CEAR’s offices with an explosive device that broke windows and damaged window frames. A similar attack took place on May 4, 2007. On May 14, 2007, employees discovered a small explosive device at the front door but managed to extinguish its fuse. On July 2, 2007, the windows in the entrance were shattered by an explosion. CEAR described the situation in Valencia as one of rising racist violence and xenophobia and a climate of impunity.
In the course of 2007, at least six incidents were reported in Switzerland in which assailants attacked housing for asylum seekers with firebombs or gunfire. The incidents received almost no publicity in the national media, but were documented by the Swiss Foundation Against Racism and Antisemitism:
- On January 22, unidentified attackers threw Molotov cocktails at a center for asylum seekers in Birr; on June 3, 2007, gunmen fired seven shots at the same center, breaking windows.
- On March 4, 2007, in Langendorf, two men were seen driving slowly past a center for asylum seekers shortly after midnight. The same vehicle returned shortly afterward and one of its passengers was seen to fire on the building.
- Shortly after midnight on May 27, 2007, in Fällanden, two young men—aged 16 and 20—threw an incendiary device against the wall of a building housing asylum seekers. The fire was put out by residents. The following night, the men returned and threw two Molotov cocktails at the building. The attackers were detained and confessed to having intended to “frighten the residents.”
On June 4, 2007, the Federal Commission Against Racism expressed concern with “a changing political climate.” Similar attacks continued in 2008.
In Ukraine, refugees and asylum seekers suffered harassment and sometimes lethal violence due to racial prejudice and hatred. After the murder of a Nigerian national on May 29, 2008, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other prominent groups in demanding the Ukrainian government investigate the crime—at that time the latest of forty reported racist attacks in 2008, including four murders.
In a statement from its Geneva headquarters on June 3, 2008, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis described the “increasingly violent attacks on foreigners and non-Ukrainians in Kiev and elsewhere in the country,” and efforts to press Ukrainian authorities for action: “UNHCR and IOM have repeatedly expressed concern over unprovoked attacks, beatings and verbal abuse aimed at asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, foreigners and minorities in Ukraine.” The UNHCR had previously expressed extreme concern with “the number and seriousness of racist attacks against asylum seekers, refugees, and other foreigners in Ukraine,” with reports received “on a regular basis.” The UNHCR described these as “first-hand reports of racially motivated incidents, unprovoked attacks, beatings, verbal insults and other acts of xenophobia against refugees and asylum seekers in different regions of Ukraine.” In a February 2008 statement, the UNHCR said it had received reports from asylum seekers of seventeen incidents of beatings and other serious abuse in Kiev alone in 2007.
In the United Kingdom, refugees and asylum seekers were the frequent object of violent assaults accompanied by racist epithets, in part because they were highly visible in their areas of placement. Asylum seekers in particular are generally assigned to public housing estates already known for high levels of criminal violence, often in high concentrations in select towns and cities.
A particularly high rate of hate violence toward refugees and asylum seekers was reported in the Strathclyde area of Glasgow, where most of Scotland’s asylum seekers initially reside in public housing. A Scottish Executive study labeled the levels of racial harassment there “shocking,” while 60 percent of people assigned to Strathclyde leave the area once they are granted asylum.
On September 28, 2007, unidentified assailants in the Catchcart area of Glasgow verbally abused and stabbed 15-year-old Christopher Ikolo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on his way to school. The victim was hospitalized with a kidney injury. Ikolo had been featured in a Scottish Refugee Week publication for his participation in a youth hip hop band. Police said there had been “168 race attacks perpetrated by youths” in Glasgow from mid-2006 though mid-2007.
High levels of violence were also reported in England, affecting both asylum seekers and refugee settlers who had chosen a permanent place of residence. In March 2007, an unknown attacker stabbed and killed 26-year-old Afghan refugee Enayit Khalili, who had lived and worked in Oxford since 2001. In May 2008, a 21-year-old man was charged with the murder.