Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


35.Memorandum submitted by Slough Race Equality Council

INTRODUCTION

1.  CONTEXT AND LOCAL COMMUNITY DEMOGRAPHY

1.1  Slough Race Equality Council's Role and Expertise

  SREC is a grant-aided not-for-profit voluntary organisation, membership comprising of various communities and individuals. SREC works with and for all of Slough's diverse communities, settled and newly arrived. Briefly our aims are to:

    —  promote good community and race relations;

    —  eradicate all forms of racial discrimination;

    —  empower and assist disadvantaged communities in identifying, raising awareness and addressing their needs; and

    —  aid victims of racial discrimination and harassment.

    —  SREC has expertise in monitoring community cohesion issues, racial incidents, community tensions and other local situations.

    —  SREC works in partnership with both police, other public sector authorities and local communities.

  1.2  SREC condemns all acts of terrorism that abuse human rights and seeks to uphold justice and human rights for all. In July 2003, Slough REC held a public debate with local people, police and various groups to discuss the impact of anti-terrorism legislation on local communities, which raised various concerns and issues for local people, many contained within this report.

1.3  Demography of Slough's Communities;

    (i)  Census 2001 indicates over 36% ethnic minorities in Slough (Muslim 13%, Sikhs 9%, Indian 14%, Pakistani 12%, Black Caribbean 3%, Others 9%.).

    (ii)  School population figures estimate 52% from minority communities with over 40 languages spoken in Slough schools and an estimated 60 on the streets.

    (iii)  Hospitals estimate up to 80% of births are from BME backgrounds.

    (iv)  Slough also has the highest number of ethnic minorities in the Southeast Region outside of London (estimated over 50,000).

    (v)  Highest number of Sikhs in Britain living in one area, (estimated 14,000).

    (vi)  Census however does not accurately show the number and diversity of BME communities in the area. Significant number of newly arrived communities, including refugees and asylum seekers. Despite it being neither a "priority" nor "official" NASS dispersal area, Slough has the second highest new arrivals in the SouthEast (NASS 2003). Extremely poor statistics on the local variation beyond the census—estimates of 2-3,000, many from Middle Eastern, Arabic and Asian nations.

    (vii)  Some of the most deprived wards in the country and the worst health in the south east.

STATEMENT OF ISSUES AND CONCERNS

2.  COMMUNITY ISSUES AND IMPACT OF TERRORISM "THREAT"

2.1  Increasing Hostility, Community Tensions and Community Cohesion Problems

    (i)  Anti-terrorism measures, coupled with the media coverage of them are a major cause of local tensions and have definitely exploited racial tensions between different groups.

    (ii)  Young people, especially young Pakistanis and Sikhs say they are experiencing increased tensions.

    (iii)  Anti-terrorism measures have created an atmosphere of paranoia, fear and suspicion in local communities and has amplified racist hostility towards visible minorities and refugees; legitimising and justifying racist ideologies of the far-right BNP and the likes (who are increasingly appearing in various guises of white "community groups"). In the climate of fear of terrorism threats, the uneducated so fall prey to their lies.

    (iv)  Area Commander of the local Police force said (18 June 2003), there has been an "enormous" increase in the level of hate crime since September 11: "Slough has the highest level of hate crime in the Thames Valley . . . it is open season racist abuse and those that are perceived as `different' are often subject to physical attack . . . The Far Right are never far away, they are always looking to get in and stir up trouble, waiting on the fringes for their opportunities . . . circulating like buzzards . . ."

2.2  Nature of Incidents

  Racial and religious incidents can involve various forms and levels of violence and aggression, serial harassment, verbal abuse and physical intimidation, discrimination of varying kinds (including institutional)—found in homes and neighbourhoods, in the street and also many problems of targeted bullying in the workplace.

2.3  Increased Levels of Racial and Religious Attacks and Harassment

  Particularly in community settings. Local incidents statistics from police and internal casework monitoring data show racial incidents consistently increasing to record levels, all disproportionately affecting BME—Last year (2003-04) a record level of 376 incidents, an increase of 27.9% on the previous year. There are also high-risk geographical areas in Slough that are worst affected and more volatile for cohesion concerns (often deprived areas).

  2.4 Increasing concerns about racial incidents, beatings and bullying by security contractors within detention centres—barriers to reporting, lack of police investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

2.5  Increased Isolation, Exclusion and Under-Reporting of Incidents

  Anti-terrorism measures exacerbate factors such as confidence, fear and mistrust in the policing authorities, feeling of lack of rights, fear of reprisals, risking a heightened situation for themselves or their family—all contributing to a serious problem of under-reporting of racial and religious attacks and harassment across most communities, with particular concern about further segregation, isolation and abuse of refugees, asylum seekers and other newly arrived communities. Anecdotally there are many, many more incidents of racial harassment that are not recognised, reported or dealt with—SREC and other local agencies have many examples of such cases.

  2.6  Vastly increasing incidence of targeted islamaphobia; a worrying picture for the area. Police revealed a foiled plot involving pigs blood and halal butchers. Anecdotal evidence to suggest Muslim individuals and communities are experiencing increased fear and abuse. Likewise any visible minority person, including Sikhs and Afghans are being targeted. For example, Muslim Women's "hajabs" and Sikh "dastar" (turbans) have been viciously pulled off. Local NHS staff have noted that patients from all communities have been "distancing" themselves from Muslim staff.

  2.7  Impact of incidents on victims, also their families and communities can be profound and devastating, with huge long term implications on mental health, fear and security—includes conflict with colleagues and at home, damaged health to victim, families and communities, damaged community relations and cohesion.

  2.8  Stigmatisation of minority groups publicly "associated" with terrorism—various implications and impact, including:

    (i)  Anger and high levels of fear at proscribing community and youth networks and organisations as being "linked to terrorists" when evidence of links is poor and inconsistent—often many targeted or banned organisations can represent some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Perception that decisions are made at the orders of British or other foreign governments that have an alternative vested interest to prevent political or human rights organisations from speaking out and gaining support.

    (ii)  A few arrests can stigmatise whole communities, community relations and community cohesion with potentially severe consequences. Sensitivities can get heightened so that small "trigger events" could become more serious in no time.

    (iii)  Otherwise legal activities, financial transactions and donations (especially international to families in their homelands) are being unjustly scrutinised, and sometimes delayed or refused without justification.

    (iv)  Impact on BME livelihoods as customers boycott stores and businesses—increases deprivation and disadvantage.

  2.9  Media coverage of arrests is extremely damaging—why are the press and TV at the front door of a local minority family when the door is being broken down at three in the morning? There appears to be serious problems of press leaks by the police or other organisations—this also labels an area, a family, the community, may prejudice the individual's trial and damages the individuals reputation, even if they are released uncharged. The enforcement of this legislation is seriously detrimenting community relations and heightening fear of difference, fear of their neighbours and fear of "Arab" looking people.

  2.10  At the same time, media encourages people to fear difference, and legitimises racism, Islamaphobia and racial and religious intolerance generally. Media is only serving to make the perception of Britain as a "haven for Islamic extremists"

  2.11  More needs to be done by the mainstream media agencies at popular viewing and listening times to counteract the myths and racist ideas being created about Islam and Muslims. There could be much more done to explore the real Islam (meaning "peace") and the "real" message of the Qu'ran eg which states that the killing of one person is like killing the whole of mankind.


3.  IMPACT, CONCERNS AND CONSEQUENCES OF ANTI-TERRORISM "MEASURES'

3.1  ENFORCING ANTI-TERRORISM LEGISLATION & POLICING ISSUES:

  The Metropolitan police operation around Heathrow was a total public relations and community relations disaster. Massive community perception that Asian and Arabic, visible minorities and particularly young males were (and still are) being disproportionately stopped and searched without reason except for their appearance. Apparent lack of communication between the Met and the local Thames Valley Police force at ground level as to the nature and operational guidelines/local sensitivities of the area. Even a Police Chief, being "Arab-looking" said he was stopped three times.

  3.2  Widespread perception that powers are being used in a racially discriminatory way particularly operationally biased toward Muslim and other minority communities (stop and search, arrests, detentions and the prosecutions). Perception of lack of accountability of police and Fear about "open door for racist abuse of police powers in the wrong hands." Indeed, community reports of arrests of Muslims and later freed without charge. Perception is reality for people—and lack of justification, and perceived discriminatory targeting of young Asian and Arab males (and indeed families) is causing huge anger and resentment. It is extremely difficult to ascertain what the impact can be on a town's community relations. Relations with local authorities and police will most certainly be severely damaged.

  3.3  Refugees and asylum seekers, probably the most vulnerable, poor, unprotected and often already traumatised people are further devastated and targeted by links and arrests under "terrorism" measures.

  3.4  Serious concerns about lack of careful planning, cultural sensitivities and organisation of arrest operations. Not just the media "leaks" apparently by the police but poor quality and insensitive planning of raids and arrests in public places or in the full glare of the neighbours. One community is also very upset about the care of children of women arrested in a dawn raid—lack of cultural sensitivities and lack of consultation with communities (not just social services) about appropriate care provision of the children.

  3.5  Decreased communication with police on statistics and community issues (previously shared) to assist understanding of community tensions and volatile areas. Eg stop and search or arrest statistics, racial incidents statistics, and other ethnic monitoring figures. Refusal to share monitoring figures on stop and search, especially under anti-terrorism legislation.

  3.6  Local peaceful protests are being monitored, restricted, filmed and criminalised—all without justification or evidence—this breeds massive resentment against both local police and the government—heightens probability of community disturbances.

  3.7  Massive fear about the future implications of widening of investigative and police powers, the "Big Brother State"—Minority communities feel they are being unfairly targeted and will come under increasing stress and restricted civil liberties. The ID card is seen to be useless as an anti-terrorism tool, with more sinister aims of "snooping" and control. Increased mistrust of authorities, decreased communication and community intelligence with public services. Perception that "justice" only applies to white Britons, not to Muslims or other "foreign nationals".

4.  IMPACT OF ANTI-TERRORISM MEASURES ON COMMUNITIES & COMMUNITY COHESION

  4.1  Decreased sense of security for most visible minorities, especially those of Asian, Middle-Eastern or Arabic looks. This will include Pakistanis, Sikhs, Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians, North Africans and most other communities that wear head garments, turbans, or even for those who simply have darker skin. In Slough alone this could potentially number over 50,000 people.

  4.2  Perception this legislation is being used to target refugees and asylum seekers, and that immigration is being used as a smokescreen to enforce racially discriminatory policies. Refugees seeking haven here already often persecuted by police or "authorities" in their home countries fear they will be terrorised here too or deported.

  4.3  Ethnic minority communities becoming more insular and segregated—when feeling "under attack", communities feel safer with their own people, they feel less and less as "part of the wider community". There appears to be a separation of communities on an ethnic basis in areas where racial harassment & incidents are worst, particularly in majority white areas that are also deprived.

  4.4  Lessened sense of being British and increased sense of religious/national identity—even for those young people who were born and brought up here—increased importance in identity being a Muslim first, increased sense of "brotherhood" in the face of an enemy in the shape of their own government and sometimes their local neighbourhoods. This is a direct result of the threat of the legislation as well as the "war on terror".

  4.5  Decreased sense of freedom—even in an area of high ethnic minorities, individuals and community groups have expressed the impact of the terrorism "measures" on their sense of freedom—freedom of movement into majority White areas, freedom of travel outside their communities, and freedom of speech to speak out about the racism, attacks and restrictions on civil liberties. Fear in participating in our public debate on this subject.

  4.6  Criminalisation of political involvement or activism—Indeed, there is a fear that involvement of openly speaking out about many political issues, especially terrorism, if you are non-white as you will be targeted as a terrorist or unpatriotic or unsympathetic to the victims of 11 September. Even educated officers of our REC felt too intimidated to attend, let alone speak out at our debate on impact of anti-terrorism measures. One individual quoted "it's ok for you to speak out and you must—we cannot because we are minorities." This highlights serious concerns about fear in the community and lack of involvement in local, national or community politics.

  4.7  Easy prey for extremism—due to this alienation, young people in particular are becoming easier prey to extremist far right religious and political groups and are being targeted outside schools with biased literature. Feeling less belonging and targeted could indeed influence to the individual's motivation to get involved and belong with such groups.

5.  CIVIL LIBERTIES ISSUES

  5.1  Desperate and widespread lack of faith or confidence in the British judicial system as a direct result of what is perceived to be secretive and unaccountable anti-terrorism legislation. Even professionals including local police and lawyers have expressed disbelief as to the "draconian" laws (senior police officer said this).

  5.2  Perception that anti-terrorism powers give complete disregard to the most basic human and legal rights we are so proud of in this country—even the reason why some minorities have come to Britain. For example, the right to a fair trial, the right to liberty, presumption of innocence, the requirement that the State provide evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" and more.

    (i)  Communities outrage at lack of hUman Rights in having a fair trial.

    (ii)  Outrage and lack of legal assistance without justification.

    (iii)  Outrage at "indefinite period" of detention without justification, even with release without charge after some months—massive negative impact on individual and community relations.

  5.3  Extreme concerns about lack of awareness of cultural sensitivities and awareness of immigration officers. Many communities travel to and from Slough via Heathrow and there are numerous anecdotes of rude remarks, rough, insensitive and unjustified searching of turbans, hajabs and luggage, detainment, verbal abuse and general bad treatment of minorities coming through British immigration and customs. Cultural awareness training about the importance of both gender and cultural sensitivities is imperative.

6.  CONCLUSION AND FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Overall

  6.1  Anti-terrorism measures are impacting on communities and community cohesion in most serious and pervasive ways—intimidating them, criminalising them, stigmatising them, segregating them, attacking them. Minority communities feel that the anti-terrorism legislation and its enforcement powers are being abused, are unfair, racist, illegitimate, and actively against basic Human and Legal rights. Perception that Justice is failing those it is supposed to protect.

  6.2  Ordinary criminal law is sufficient to deal with threats and terrorism and there is no evidence to suggest that the anti-terrorism measures and special powers are constructively protecting anyone, and are only making a mockery of decades of community relations and anti-racist work. There will be increasing and severe community cohesion problems if the powers are not restricted, made accountable and monitored and sanctions placed on those found misusing them.

Police Powers

  6.3  Must be public accountability to provide evidence and justification for police to exercise powers under this act (see 3.2) in all areas (including stop and search, arrest, detention, and prosecution process).

  6.4  Police to take positive action to both prevent and fully investigate reports of racial incidents with recommendations for positive community relations (eg community training, funding for integration events and projects, take sanctions on perpetrators). Community and race relations officers to spend more time within local BME communities—communication and interpreting issues.

  6.5  Police to respect the basic human rights of individuals and their usual procedures and rights that police usually follow (eg access to legal representation etc, explanation of arrest etc).

  6.6  Police to share statistical and ethnic monitoring information with local agencies/communities about racial incidents, arrest and detentions under the anti-terrorism legislation (eg Race Equality Councils, relevant community groups or welfare organisations) enhances intelligence gathering, prevention and appropriate policing of disturbances, and would go some way to re-building good community relations and mutual trust with authorities.

  6.7  In the case that local Police wish to film any event, they will notify beforehand the organisers of any community demonstrations, protests and the like, with explanation of reason & intent of use & distribution of the film.

Community Cohesion

  6.8  The climate of fear of Islamophobia, lack of support, even threat from the authorities on Muslims is creating fertile ground for extremists to prey on young Muslims. More money should be put into youth projects for minority and disaffected youths in all areas.

  6.9  More long term and core funding for community and integration projects for all age groups especially in deprived areas or with deprived communities—need re-inclusion of ethnicity into deprivation indices. Severe funding needs in voluntary and community sector—but also individual funds like Community Champions extremely effective.

  6.10  Open, vocal support of Islam and Muslims in Britain followed by appropriate positive action initiatives by senior government. Zero tolerance of racism and Islamaphobia in policing, immigration and security services under an accountable legislative framework is essential (ie severe punishment for those not justifiying arrests and detention without adequate evidence).

Anti-Terrorism Legislation and its Implementation

  6.11  A complete overhaul (even repeal) of all Anti-terrorism legislation (2000 and 2001), to re-incorporate respect to human rights and basic legal rights into the legislation and powers. Restore all human rights and due legal process (the right of habeus corpus) under the anti-terrorism legislation—including:

    (i)  Everyone must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

    (ii)  Public accountability and justification for arrest and detention and prosecution.

    (iii)  No detention without charge.

    (iv)  Right to information and evidence.

    (v)  Right to a fair trial.

  6.12  Annual monitoring and review of all actions taken under the legislation and their impact on social cohesion and the actual protection of citizens against "real terrorists".

  6.13  A Race impact assessment should be undertaken in widespread consultation with all interested parties and communities, including race equality councils, community and religious organisations locally and nationally.

  6.14  Definition of "terrorism" and what constitutes "terrorist links" too broad—is confusing, unhelpful, can be misused and misrepresented to suit a different purpose. Should be narrowed specifically to include need for accountability, for evidence and justification of proscription of groups. Even the British government would fit into the current definition!

  6.15  Repeal all bans on proscribed (banned) organisations where there is not public accountability and independent evidence to do so (not just on the order of individuals, political parties or governments).

  6.16  Need for statutory code of practice on implementation of Acts and exercising of powers.

  6.17  The above code to include best practice in execution of police powers—this should include ethnic and religious monitoring of all stop and search, arrests, detentions and outcomes of CPS processes, detailed cultural/religious awareness training for officers.

  6.18  Religious discrimination legislation to be implemented and extended to all public services, including the police and specific justification given in execution of police powers in terrorism measures.

14 September 2004





 
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