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Violent protests against refugees and asylum seekers grow

Hope not Hate's annual report warns that racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant activity has increased to worrying levels in recent years. According to The Times newspaper , last year there were 253 protests against the accommodation of refugees and applicants for international protection in hotels, only in the United Kingdom (UK). Recently, with the increase in the number of people in need of international protection, with the effects of the pandemic and with the multiple crises, namely in housing, many extreme right groups have organized campaigns against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, with reports especially in Europe, such as the United Kingdom , Scotland ,Ireland and Germany , but also in other parts of the world like India .

In the United Kingdom, gatherings can bring together around a hundred affiliates and sympathizers of radical right movements, next to accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. The protests are driven by the Patriotic Alternative movement and can last for several weeks, reaching high levels of violence such as arson attacks, stonings, clashes with the police and numerous attacks and threats . It is usual for the crowd to remain on vigil, shouting slogans, throwing stones and threatening those who are inside the barracks, with the authorities having been forced to establish a confinement and increase the security of these areas. Also, political representatives, people working in reception, activists and volunteers have been the target of attacks and threats, with many having seen their identification and contact details being shared in public online forums of far-right groups.

Cordão de segurança escuda carrinha ateada por protestantes de extrema-direita, contra o alojamento de requerentes de asilo no hotel de Knowsley em Liverpool, no Reino Unido. Liverpool Echo.
A security cordon shields a van set on fire by far-right protesters against the accommodation of asylum seekers at the Knowsley hotel in Liverpool, UK. Liverpool Echo.

These far-right groups commonly use social media to spread false ideas and misinformation and thus be able to scare people and capitalize on the moral panics associated with cultural diversity. They also hang banners around towns, distribute simplistic and visually striking leaflets and advertise where asylum seekers and refugees are housed, to spur further protests. They infiltrate municipal and local hearings and assemblies, igniting the "Us vs Others" debate and spreading lies and false news about refugees and asylum seekers, fueling feelings of injustice and hatred among local populations. In one of the public hearings, in Dunstable, UK, it was possible to perceive some of the reasons behind these protests against refugees and asylum seekers. Some of the accusations relate to: making too many appointments at the dentist; take up too much space on the sidewalk; remove vacancies in free training (which are exclusively for learning English); or money being spent that could go towards free television licenses for seniors.

The increase in these types of concentrations, the intensification of violence, disruption and hate speech are worrying the authorities, who say that the situation has become "extremely frightening". In Ireland, analysts and populations are wary of these movements which, in recent months, have launched "an extreme level of rhetoric and incitement to violence the likes of which have never been seen before" .

For Sarah Khan - Commissioner for Combating Extremism in the UK - these groups continue with their activities, radicalizing people online and fomenting hatred and violence, with so much impunity ,due to the lack of operational means to stop and combat them. The absence of a legal framework for hate extremism is part of the reason for the lack of this operational infrastructure. For Khan, the intensification of these ideas are being perpetuated by the Government itself and by the media, which demonize migrants and refugees, using them as scapegoats guilty of evils and crises, which are generally created by the Governments themselves. These rhetorics shape public opinion and encourage hate speech and violence against these people, who just need a safe and peaceful place to try to rebuild their lives. The effect of these narratives is extremely disruptive, leading to the division of communities and society in general, with high levels of violence and insecurity .

It is ironic that these extreme right-wing rallies against refugees and migrants, whose motto is security issues - particularly for women and children - and about making "streets safer", end up resulting in precisely the opposite, making the streets more insecure and creating violent communities and societies.

Also ironic is the fact that these manifestations of hatred allow many people to better understand the situation in which refugees and asylum seekers live. Reaching high levels of mobilization, either through direct support, donations or holding demonstrations of solidarity, in response to xenophobic anti-migration protests. The last one was attended by between 20,000 and 50,000 people who came together, on the 18th of February in Dublin, to defend the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and demonstrate their solidarity.

Solidarity demonstration in Dublin, 18 February. PA Images.

ComUnidade and the CPR remain on the side of all those who stand for humanity, equality, decency and respect, repudiating any racist, xenophobic, hateful or violent act.

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