Racism and refugees in Cumbria
Cumbria has a longstanding relationship with refugees. Whether it be in the aftermath of World War I or II, or in more recent times.
Often, the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ are confused and incorrectly used interchangeably in the media and public conversation. The definition of a refugee is described as:
A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Since 2017, around 200 refugees have come to live in Cumbria, mainly from Syria and Iraq, on a government-supported UN resettlement programme.
Resettled families get support from Cumbria County Council via a caseworker, are provided housing, essential furnishings and English tuition. The children are placed in schools and the adults are supported to find work, many of these have been able to pick up their previous careers while others may need to re-train. These families have endured enormous hardship and trauma even before they arrive in the UK and face the challenge of adapting to a new culture, language and way of life.
In addition to the harrowing and life-changing experiences these people have faced, there is the ongoing pain of homesickness, separation from loved ones and anxiety about the safety of those left behind in war-torn countries. The memories of the past and worries for the present is prominent and never-ending.
Many resettled refugee families have found Cumbria a friendly, welcoming place – but some have endured racist abuse and been subjected to hate crime. A few individuals and families have even left Cumbria as a direct result of this. Just one person leaving Cumbria due to racism is something we should be ashamed of.
First hand accounts by some refugees now settled in Cumbria evidence that they have experienced racially aggravated abuse not only in public places, but with their homes also used as a target. Families have had eggs thrown at walls and bricks thrown through windows. As explained in the definition above, Refugees are those seeking refuge, security, safety from the horrors they have faced in their home countries.
Why should they be subjected to even more horrific incidents such as these as they seek a more secure life?
Muslim women who wear hijabs (head coverings) are very visible in the community and have therefore sometimes been treated with particular hostility, in one instance as a woman travelled on a bus, her hijab was pulled from her head and she was then verbally racially abused.
88% of hate crimes are religiously or racially motivated. Cumbria Police themselves reported the following last year.
“Racist hate crimes and incidents have shown a large increase and statistically significant increase this year. This could potentially be due to several high profile terror related incidents in the UK occurring in 2017 leading to greater resentment of ethnic minorities. It may also be due in part to greater confidence from the public in reporting racist hate crimes to us. Religious hate crimes and incidents are showing a large percentage increase. However these figures are not statistically significant and are still too low for accurate statistical testing”
Far-right groups, such as the British National Party and the English Defence League, have unfortunately gained footholds in parts of Cumbria in the past. These groups are weaker than they once were – but there are still pockets of racism in parts of Cumbria that are deeply entrenched. Increasing economic deprivation (made worse by austerity policies and the legacy of Covid-19) has heightened tensions in these areas.
Sadly in July 2020 Cumbria Police had to reach out to local community groups as there had been a marked rise in Far Right propaganda and emblems such as swastikas making a return to public spaces in our towns. Anti Racist Cumbria are having continued discussions with the police to ensure that these are being reported as hate crimes rather than anti-social behaviour and also to work hard on prosecuting the individuals responsible. We believe the police response to these crimes sets the tone of zero tolerance for the communities and we aim to work with the police to check their responses are the right ones.
Local media reports about refugee resettlement attract a great many hostile online comments. These are taken from just one North West Evening Mail article;
- Totally agree to a time limit. A right to stay indefinitely should not be an option even if they marry and have kids with a British National. All we will end up with is home grown Jihadists who we cannot deport. Put them all in a camp with a wire fence around it. That should make them feel at home.
- I hope they don’t end up anywhere near me
- Yay! Just what we don’t need 🙂
- I DON’T WANT THEM HERE I WORK IN BUILDING TRADE AND ALREADY JAM PACKED WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW THE JOB NOR DO THEY SPEAK MUCH ENGLISH. I HOPE NONE OF THEM MOVE NEAR ME.
- We can barely look after our own, the old with no heating, homeless, servicemen in need yet we give people freebies!! Don’t they have close neighbouring countries who can help.
These comments may be made by a relatively small number of people but they provide evidence of the hatred that exists in some quarters.
So, what can we do to help?
Charities where families can find support and friendship:
- Carlisle Refugee Action Group
- Penrith and Eden Refugee Network
- Furness Refugee Support
- West Cumbria Refugee Support Network
- Furness Multicultural Community Forum and Youth Club
- Cumbria County Council – Rob Cartner Resettlement Programme Manager and his team
Members of some local church communities also offer help and support.
Challenge racism in your communities.
We all need to call out racism whenever it rears its ugly head, whether it’s online, in a street, a school or workplace. Inform the police if you see incidents of racism taking place. There are some organisations in Cumbria that can help. These include:
- Cumbria Police: https://www.cumbria.police.uk/Services/ReportAdvice/Hate-Crime.aspx
- Anti Racist Cumbria, creating the UK’s first anti-racist county antiracistcumbria.org
- Furness Multicultural Community Forum, active in anti racism work in Barrow for 20 years https://www.facebook.com/FMCFyouthclub
- Multicultural Cumbria, which shares similarities and celebrates differences:/https://www.mcc1.org.uk
- AWAZ, which empowers the voices of Black and Minority Ethnic Communities in Cumbria: https://www.awazcumbria.org/
- Choose Love, nationwide charity supporting refugees here in Cumbria https://choose.love/pages/about-choose-love
https://www.cumbria.police.uk/About-Us/Department-Information/Equality-and-Diversity.aspx > Cumbria Constabulary Equality and Diversity Update April 2019