Over the past few months, a small but significant shift has been taking place amongst migrant communities in Peterborough. People from diverse backgrounds – including individual migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those from local charities and faith groups – have started to come together to confront a mutual challenge. Through conversations and meetings, they are voicing their concern about the degree of hate crime and racist and xenophobic incidents that migrants in the town are experiencing, particularly those involving children and young people.
People from established Muslim communities, who have experienced ongoing Islamophobia, have united with EU migrants facing a new type of prejudice in an unwelcoming, post-referendum Britain. Together, they have spoken passionately about their desire to ensure that all children, no matter what their background, should be able to be free from fear as they walk down the street or go to school.
Peterborough mother Alice Barros is one of those taking a stand against hate. “I felt so angry after the Brexit vote and the way that migrants were being treated. I wanted to get more involved in the community to make a positive change,” she says. “As a parent, I feel passionately about the safety of our children. No child should ever have to worry about being verbally or physically attacked simply because of where they or their parents come from.”
Alice, who came to the UK 14 years ago from her native Portugal, is a member of Divercidade, a local Portuguese and Lusophone community group which is playing a leading role in campaigning against hate incidents. Having established themselves quickly and achieved the all-important first step of securing a physical space in which to meet, Divercidade is now beginning to build its membership. Following a Migrants Organise workshop on practical ways to address hate incidents, the group has now hosted a meeting for local parents to encourage them to share their stories, find ways to get them heard, and thereby improve the situation.
Some of the participants took up the opportunity to share their personal experiences of hate incidents, with one woman giving a particularly powerful account of her 10-year-old son being hospitalised after he was beaten by three other children. The woman – who wished to remain anonymous – described how voiceless she felt when her complaint to her son’s school went unanswered, in comparison to the empowerment she felt after engaging with Divercidade. “It has been great to come together and talk – we’ve gone away with a much clearer idea of how we can grow power in the community and develop a plan for action to tackle this crucial issue,” confirms Alice.
However, other migrants said that many people are too afraid to speak out about hate, either due to insufficient English language skills or the fear of recrimination – or a combination of the two. With this in mind, Divercidade members are now considering additional ways of tackling hate, from supporting parents to raise problems with schools, to conducting workshops and, where appropriate, providing English lessons to parents. The organisation is also hoping to establish regular coffee mornings to provide a space for people to talk about hate incidents. With support from Migrants Organise, Divercidade is also engaging in discussions with local schools to establish where effective models for addressing hate – and for involving parents in that process – are already in place.
The experience in Peterborough is part of a wider problem of discrimination across the UK, where hate crimes involving racial and religious discrimination have increased massively. Since 2016, hate crime in general has rocketed at an unprecedented rate, while incidents in schools almost doubled during the Brexit campaign itself. In the academic year directly following the referendum, five hate incidents occurred every single school day.
Migrants Organise is currently working in Peterborough and other locations across east and south east England, to support migrant and refugee communities. In Peterborough, this involves working with parents, schools, and community groups to ensure that they have the skills, confidence, and knowledge to campaign for change, ultimately ensuring that schools are free from hate.
To find out more about what’s happening in Peterborough, contact Sian Drinkwater by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.