Protecting ethnic minorities

Protecting ethnic minorities


Written by: Liz Fekete

One would have thought that governments concerned about the impact on social cohesion of a resurgent far-Right would want to reassure members of minority communities that the police service and criminal justice system were there to protect them and were sensitive to their needs. Unfortunately, many police services in Europe have not even come to first base when it comes to collecting data on racist crimes. And many politicians, far from supporting minority rights, are fanning the flames of prejudice by accusing ethnic minorities of aiding the far-Right by failing to integrate.

Absence of data collection on racist crimes

The European Commission has for some time been pressing for a European-wide drive against racist violence. But the adoption of a Council Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, which would establish a framework for punishing racist/xenophobic violence as a criminal offence, and recognise racist/xenophobic motivation as an aggravating circumstance for determining enhanced sentencing, has been delayed due to wrangling at the member-state level. This is all the more disturbing as the European Monitoring Centre on Racism & Xenophobia (EUMC) has pointed out that official data collection on racist violence in fifteen of the EU’s old member states is either non-existent or ineffectual and needs further development (Greece, Italy and Portugal have no recording system whatsoever), and that most member states have no idea of the degree to which ethnic minorities are being targeted.[1] There is a lack of a homogeneous legal definition of ‘racist violence’, ‘racist crime’ or ‘racism’ in Europe, or common working practices about how a crime can be determined to be ‘racist’, states the EUMC, which argues for the adoption of a victim’s perspective on racist crimes to be incorporated into criminal justice systems. In this respect, the 2000 Macpherson Inquiry into the Death of Stephen Lawrence in the UK, which developed a broad-based victim-centred definition of a racist attack, was ground-breaking. This ‘open’ definition, together with the UK’s history of protective criminal justice initiatives aimed at enhancing community (race) relations and encouraging victims of racist crime to report to the police, is reflected in the fact that the UK’s figures for racist incidents far exceed those in other member states where broad-based victim-centred definitions are not in use, concludes the EUMC.

Country summaries

Police statistics, then, are an inaccurate gauge of the extent of racial violence across Europe. But NGOs have for some time been attempting to document the true extent of racial violence, expose patterns of racial harassment and highlight issues of pressing concern. These are some of the issues that NGOs (including the Institute of Race Relations) have highlighted over the past eighteen months

(i) Racial violence and neo-Nazi inspired hate crimes are increasing, attacks are becoming more brutal and hotspots of violence are developing.

(ii) The Muslim community, in particular Muslim places of worship, are being targeted by the far-Right for vandalism, death threats and arson in much the same way as asylum seekers and their centres were attacked in the past (these attacks on asylum seekers continue).

(iii) The far-Right is orchestrating street protests and disturbances and engaging in systematic street violence. Other anti-immigrant or anti-Gypsy demonstrations are not directly organised by the far-Right but have the same impact.

(iv) The victim’s perspective is lacking in police strategies to fight racist crimes and governments fail to fund counselling services or victim support organisations that speak to the needs of ethnic minorities.

(v) It is young people, often the victims of racist crimes, who are also one of the main instigators of racist crimes. Insufficient attention has been given to educational strategies for children and young people to combat racism.

(vi) Politicians are increasing the climate of hate through their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim or anti-Roma rhetoric in parliaments. Governments are failing to speak out against racist crimes and a culture of ‘blaming the victim’ is emerging.

Increase in racial violence and neo-Nazi hate crimes

There have been reports of an increase in racial violence, particularly of serious attacks and other neo-Nazi hate crimes (on homosexuals and left-wingers, for instance) in several European countries. Some of the most brutal attacks that have taken place over the past year or so (or have come to court during that period) are documented below. (See also European Race Bulletin 50 for other cases during this period.) Even though some attacks did not result in death or serious injury, we list them below because the intention was clearly to seriously maim.

Evidence that racial violence is increasing is provided in some European countries via police statistics, but most often independent anti-racist monitoring groups are providing the information. (The NGOs also document brutal attacks on left-wingers and homosexuals and, indeed, anyone deemed different, and details of these cases are included, where relevant.)


The EUMC states that while Austria does give importance to monitoring the activities of extreme right-wing organisations, which can include acts of racist violence, this approach does not capture the full range of racist violence.2 Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit (ZARA), an organisation providing counselling to the victims of racial violence without any financial support from the government, provides one of the few sources of information on Austrian racism. In its 2004 ‘Report on Racism’, it documented nearly 1,000 cases of racism (including acts of racial discrimination as well as racial violence).

Many of the attacks documented by ZARA took place in Vienna (where the extreme-Right Freedom party is strong) and involved attacks on Africans. On April 13 2005, Di-Tutu Bukasa, a member of the European Network Against Racism, was attacked and beaten by four right-wing extremists chanting racist and Nazi slogans in a parking lot in downtown Vienna.[3]


Official statistics on racial violence reflect an absense of effective data collection mechanisms and broad-based legal definitions of ‘racist incidents’ (only 1,565 racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic attacks were recorded in 2004), according to the EUMC 2004 annual report. The number of racist and anti-Semitic acts rose by almost 88 per cent in 2004, with figures relating to physical attacks never higher, according to the National Consultative Committee of Human Rights. (Anti-Semitic threats doubled in 2004.) According to the intelligence services, Alsace is the primary region for the far-Right, although the Paris metropolitan area and the Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur region are also mentioned.

A huge proportion of all racist attacks on immigrants and people of immigrant origin take place in Corsica, where the Bishop of Ajaccio has declared ‘the limit of what is bearable has been reached’.[4]

The annual report of the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights states that some 81 per cent of attacks against non-Jews were aimed at North Africans. The cases below reveal something of the hostile climate in which North Africans, particularly young people, are forced to live.

27 December 2004: A bottle full of acid wrapped in aluminium foil was thrown into a housing estate which is home to many people of North African origin in the south of Ajaccio, Corsica, resulting in an explosion. On Christmas Eve, a 5 kilo bomb was discovered in the same housing estate and experts had to be called to defuse it. ‘Clandestini Corsi’ had already claimed responsibility for seven attacks against members of the North African community.[5]

February 2005 (court case): A 50-year-old French truck driver was convicted of murdering a youth of North African origin on 4 October 2002. Joël Damman, who was an experienced hunter, had roamed the streets of Dunkirk dressed in hunting gear. He was looking for Arabs – whom he considered sub-human – to attack when he shot dead 17-year-old Mohamed Maghara and wounded three other North African youths who had been standing in front of two cafes. Damman was found guilty of murder and attempted murder of sixteen other youths of North African origin and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment.[6]

The way in which the local community in Bessan in Hérault (Languedoc Roussillon, where the Front National won 36.6 per cent of the vote in the last presidential elections) took up the case of Gaston Malafosse, who committed suicide in prison after having been arrested for opening fire for several minutes on a group of North Africans, seriously injuring two of them, as well as a passer-by, is revealing. Following Malafosse’s death, he was treated as a local martyr with 1,500 people gathering in the town for a memorial event.[7]


Police statistics suggest that most racist crimes take place in southern Finland but the eastern city of Kajaani experienced the greater number of recorded incidents in relation to its number of foreign residents.

30 July 2005: Fifteen men, armed with billiard cues, stormed a pizza restaurant run by people of Middle Eastern origin, seriously injuring five people, three staff and two customers. The gang beat up everyone in the restaurant who looked like an immigrant and smashed furniture. Foreign restaurants in Kajaani have long been the targets of violence and the owner of the pizza restaurant had been repeatedly threatened. In one incident a dead hamster was left strung by its neck outside his door as a warning of the fate that he could expect.[8]


Like Austria, German systems of compiling data on racial violence have been criticised by the EUMC for largely focusing on neo-Nazi political crimes. Likewise, anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations have long since criticised official statistics for obscuring the full extent of the problem. The east German states of Brandenburg, Saxony (with Pirna often singled out) and Thuringia are most often cited as the worst area of neo-Nazi violence. Violence in Cottbus (the scene of extreme racist violence in the past) is said to remain serious. Southern Germany is currently experiencing a resurgeence of neo-Nazi crimes, especially in Munich where Adolf Hitler laid the foundations of the Nazi party and mounted a failed putsch.

The Antifaschiistisches Infoblatt says that, since the beginning of 2005, grassroots victim support organisations have noted a substantial increase in extremely brutal neo-Nazi and racially motivated attacks.[9] The victims are immigrants and ethnic minorities as well as young people from the left-wing scene. One case which came to trial in May 2005, that we cite below, was described in court as tantamount to torture.

October/November 2004: An African student and a human rights worker of Kurdish origin were attacked in Erfurt, Thuringia, in separate incidents. In the case of Yussuf Aberle, who was called a ‘shitty foreigner’ during the attack, strong criticisms have also been levelled at the police for their handling of the attack. Although Aberle was seriously injured, the police, on arrival at the crime scene, accused him of being the perpetrator and demanded to see his residence and work permit.[10]

February 2005 (court case): Twelve members of the extreme-Right Freikorps (Volunteer Corps) were convicted on ten accounts of attacking immigrant-owned businesses between August 2003 and May 2004 in the small town of Havelland, outside Berlin, causing an estimated €800,000 worth of damage.[11]

19 March: An arson attack was attempted on a Turkish snack bar in Zepernick bei Bernau, but the incendiary device failed to go off. The stall, by the Zepenick suburban line railway station, has long been a target for neo-Nazi violence and during the attack the snack bar was daubed with right-wing slogans and over twenty swastikas.[12] It is also reported that foreigners have been repeatedly attacked at this railway station. This is just one of several arson attacks on Turkish businesses reported around this period.

28 March: A 31-year-old punk rocker was stabbed to death in an underground station in Dortmund after an argument with a 17-year-old fascist.[13]

5 April: A 17-year-old schoolboy, named as Marcel S, who defended his girlfriend at a Munich underground station when she was insulted by a group of Germans (described as Goths) because of her Asian appearance, has died as a result of his injuries. There was criticism of the police’s assessment of the attack as ‘not particularly severe or brutal’ and for ignoring the racial motivation, on the basis that the insults levelled at the girl were a matter of chance. ‘If her nose had been too big, she might have been mocked for that.'[14]

15 April: A man, who has only been named as Artur K (for legal reasons), was stabbed to death in Schwerte, near Dortmund (North Rhine-Westphalia) after he objected to a man shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ and other fascist slogans in the meadows by the banks of the Ruhr river.[15]

May: (court case). Three neo-Nazis, aged between 20 and 24, abducted a 23-year-old man on the street and tortured him in his flat, raping him with kitchen implements, burning him with a hot iron and lighted cigarettes, and forcing him to swallow vomit, washing up liquid and pigeon droppings. The victim only survived due to an emergency operation and has had to be equipped with an artificial anus. One side of his stomach is paralysed and he is so traumatised that he has had to live apart from his three-year-old son that the Nazis threatened to kill if he reported the attack to the police. The victim was told that he was ‘non-Aryan’ and his life was ‘worth less than a dogs’.[16]

12 August: A dozen masked neo-Nazis attacked a residence of immigrants of German descent from the former Soviet Union in Freital (Saxony).[17]

September: Ticket collectors in Halle attacked an African man on a tram, with one of them shouting we want to kill ‘the nigger’. Bystanders had to come to the man’s aid.[18]

23 September: Three right-wing extremists attacked and injured an African man in the Hellersdorf area of Berlin, forcing him to flee on a bus, the driver of which alerted the police.[19]


The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, responding to gaps in the collection of data by the garda on racial violence, has established a system for recording incidents related to racism in Ireland which are analysed and compiled in six-monthly reports. (Last report published October 2004).

Travellers’ groups say that because Irish Travellers are not recognised as a distinct minority (as they are in the UK and Northern Ireland) the hatred they face on a daily basis is not properly recognised as racism

There has been some controversy over whether racial motivation played a role in the deaths of a Chinese man and a Traveller – the killers of whom came to court in 2005. Racial motivation was not recognised as a factor in the 2002 killing of Ly Minh Luong (although there was some evidence of racial abuse prior to the assault in Dublin, which left Luong with severe brain damage). And Travellers believe that the manner in which the prosecution was conducted into the killing of a Traveller by a farmer in Mayo reflects ‘institutionalised racism’. Pádraig Nally apprehended Ward at his farmhouse and, suspecting the Traveller of attempting to break in, assaulted him repeatedly with a piece of wood. As Ward hobbled away, Nally went to reload his gun, followed him and shot him dead at close range. The fact that Nally was convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter, and treated by some sections of the community as a hero, has angered Travellers’ organisations. They believe that the message sent by the Nally case is that it is ‘OK’ to kill a Traveller. Mr Ward’s widow has recieved hate mail saying ‘one down, 30,000 to go’.[20]

April 2005: A pipe bomb attack on the home of migrant eastern European workers in Fivemiletown, a rural area in County Tyrone took place. The device failed to explode but Inspector Alwyn Barton said it was ‘purely and simply racism at its worst’ and the police and community would not tolerate it.[21]

July 2005 (court case): Four Galway construction workers have been convicted for an attack on a black medical student working as a nightclub bouncher in Athenry, who they called a ‘black bastard’ and a ‘nigger’ before kicking and beating him.[22]

July 2005: A 23-year-old Sikh man suffered serious wounds to his hands and arms after being attacked by two men shouting racist abuse outside his home in Athlone, County Westmeath. He said that his attackers thought he was a Muslim and were trying to kill him.[23]


As noted by the EUMC, there is no system whatsoever for the compilation of data on racial incidents in Italy. The Centre for Studies of Immigration (CESTIM) in Verona attempts to provide summaries of the most serious incidents of discrimination. The IRR has in the past drawn attention to the high level of attacks on Roma encampments.

January 2005: A group of ten youths, aged between 17 and 28, attempted to burn down the Via Aveta de la Ercolano Romani camp outside Naples. The camp was attacked with flame-throwers and a makeshift bomb partially destroyed one shack. No one was injured and ten people were arrested.[24]


According to the EUMC, police do not record racial motivation as a factor in crime generation. And although police record specific crimes of racism, they have not been provided with guidance on how to determine whether a crime is racially motivated. The hostile climate against migrants arriving in Malta by boat to claim asylum is the context for a series of attacks and threats against asylum seekers at the Hal-Far detention centre. On 5 July 2005, a car pulled up outside the centre and dumped 200 copies of a KKK flyer stating ‘Illegal immigrant bummers we do not want you in Malta get out or we will start killing you’.[25]


Apart from the attacks on mosques (see next section), there continue to be serious incidents directed against asylum seekers.

A secondary school in Dokkum banned students from wearing Lonsdale clothing (associated with the far-Right) after a group of youths stoned asylum seekers at an asylum centre in Friesland city. The centre was also daubed with swastikas.[26]

On several occasions, the riot police had to be called out to the northern town of Ulrum in Groningen where an anti-asylum campaign has been launched. A 17-year-old girl claimed to have been assaulted on seven occasions by asylum seekers, and anger was directed at the police for their alleged failure to provide the community with protection from criminal asylum seekers. It finally transpired that the girl had fabricated all the claims.[27]


There has been concern about neo-Nazi activity in the small east Norwegian town of Halden, near the Swedish border. A local solidarity campaign has been launched after two refugee families were the victims of horrific violence. A Kurdish family’s house was razed to the ground just days after someone had daubed it with swastikas. The home of another family, also of Kurdish origin, was painted with swastikas and racist slogans.[28]


In its annual report, the EUMC states that Roma minorities are the group most vulnerable to racism in the European Union since the bloc expanded into central Europe. Extreme racism against the Roma, including racially motivated murders, has long since been a concern of NGOs in Slovakia.

January 2005 (court case): For the first time in Slovak judicial history, compensation for moral suffering to the next-of-kin of a victim of racially motivated crime has been awarded to the family of Mario Goral. Goral, a 17-year-old Romani youth, was killed in the town of jar nad Hronom in 1995. He had been chased through the streets of the town by a group of skinheads, stabbed with knives, beaten to a state of unconsciousness, doused in a flammable substance, and then set on fire.[29]


Neither the government nor the National Council of Judicial Power (the body responsible for Spanish courts) keep statistics on racial violence. But the Movement Against Intolerance, which attempts to document the extent of hate crime on the basis of published sources and police reports, is concerned that racism is increasing, with ten per cent of serious attacks taking place in the agricultural region of Andalucia. El Ejido, Almeria has been compared to the American Deep South of the 1950s. The fieldworkers’ union, Sindicato del Obreros del Campo (SOC) and the NGO Programme for Equal Rights have said that violent attacks here are becoming ‘more virulent’ each time and take place in a climate of ‘impunity’.[30] In some instances, local communities have organised xenophobic protests (see also section on anti-Muslim violence).

January 2005: Mimoun Karmaoui, who is Moroccan, has been left incapacitated and unable to work after being set upon by a gang of young people in El Ejido, Almeria. The attack was so severe that he required neurosurgery for a skull fracture.[31]

January 2005: Terrified Gypsy families have spoken of their fear that they would not get out of their houses alive, after locals in the town of Cortagana, in the Sierra de Huelva, organised a demonstration and attacked them in the El Eritas area – blaming them for crime. There had been an escalation of anti-Gypsy sentiment in the area after two Gypsies, with a past record of violence, were arrested for the killing of a mentally- challenged man in January 2005. During the demonstration, protestors, who climbed onto rooves, shouted ‘murder’ and ‘we’re going to kill you’, damaged cars and kicked down front doors. A leaflet entitled ‘What everyone thinks but nobody dares say’ stated ‘We are fed up with criminal and murderous gypsies’.

The anti-Roma demonstration was supported by the town’s mayor. The deputy mayor blamed the violence on small extreme-Right groups, but Roma organisations are seeking a prosecution against the Mayor for incitement.[32]

June 2005: Four Moroccans were pursued from a disco in Navalmoral, Caceres, by a gang, which included young people and adults armed with knives, chains and planks of wood. The gang was then joined by a larger group of people, including some on motorbikes and others who had dogs. Five minors were arrested.

August 2005: In Zaragoza, a coach which takes African migrants to work on a farm was set on fire. Attacks on Gypsies and a general climate hostile to immigrants have also been reported.33

9 September: In the Buenavista zone of Oviedo, a 24-year-old left-wing activist had a swastika carved into her face after being attacked by neo-Nazis in the doorway of her home. Police said this was the first extreme-Right incident to have occurred in the region of Asturia.[34]

11 October 2005: The fieldworkers’ union ‘Sindicato de Obreros del Campo’ (SOC) and the NGO Programme for Equal Rights has called on the judiciary to investigate two attacks carried out within a half hour on Moroccans during which they were shot at (with pellet guns, it is presumed) in El Ejido (Almeria). Larbi Chaibita was on his farm in the heart of San Agustín when a car pulled up. He was shot at, and the pellet penetrated his left lung. Half an hour later, downtown in Santa María del Aguila, Masad Essaudi was hit by a pellet in the left leg.[35]

Several cases of deaths due to violence involving migrant workers have been documented in which the police version of events (ruling out racism as motivation for an attack) has been contested by the families of the deceased and/or NGOs and trade unionists.

January 2005: Hamit Oulhadi, a 26-year-old Moroccan was found dead in a field in Granyanella, with a wound to his throat and his head crushed with a stone. Three Spanish men were arrested, including one who is alleged to have played a leading role in confrontations with immigrants. The family are unhappy with the police claim that the killing may have been a settling of accounts and point out that Oulhadi had never been involved in criminal activity.[36]

February: Azzouz Hosni, a 40-year-old agricultural worker of Moroccan origin was stabbed to death in El Ejido by a gang of Spanish youths. The agricultural worker was a member of the APHDA union which has criticised the police for denying that the attack was racially motivated and attempting to portray it as drugs-related. It has called on the government to ‘take steps once and for all to curb the rise of violence on the part of fascist groups in the town of El Ejido’. The organisation Platform for Equal Rights said that Hosni was murdered ‘without any other motive except that of the contempt and harassment which immigrants have to endure from an unscrupulous few’ and pointed out that a string of attacks on immigrants by violent gangs have gone unpunished by the police.[37]

30 August: Sellam Essabbab, a 36-year-old construction worker of Moroccan origin, was shot dead in Tortosa, Tarragona, by a car driver following an argument about who had right of way. (Essabbab was attempting to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing.)

The authorities attempted to downplay any racial motive for the killing, describing it as a one-off incident. Several witnesses said the driver, who sped off after shooting the victim five times, had the appearance of a young Spanish skinhead and that he had racially abused Essabbab, before shooting him.[38]


There have been claims that the true level of hate crime (directed mostly at ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians) has been covered up by the police. According to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the National Police Board commissioned research into hate crime which found not only that such crime was on the increase but also that the police did not have sufficient information to combat it. Despite these findings, the National Police Board’s annual report to government described good progress in combating hate crime. Christer Nyberg, who carried out the research, and found that police districts had insufficient knowledge of national guidelines for combating hate crime, said he was puzzled as to why the National Police Board had distanced itself from the research it commissioned.[39]

One neo-Nazi-inspired crime – with children as both perpetrator and victim – has been widely publicised in the press.

January 2005: A 13-year-old boy, for legal reasons named only as Rikard, killed a boy, named Bobby, at a children’s centre in Stockholm. The young killer had been influenced by neo-Nazi ideas and the attack was so brutal that Bobby’s skull was shattered and one arm broken. Another boy was also arrested.

The incident began with Rikard (a day pupil at the children’s home) spreading rumours on the internet that Bobby was a homosexual. On Rikard’s home computer police found huge quantities of propaganda and images from the Third Reich together with receipts from the National Democrats, which he joined in 2004. Rikard’s girlfriend said that she had warned staff at the children’s centre that Rikard intended to kill the boy, but they failed to act.[40]


The Service of Analysis and Prevention (SAP) of the Federal Ministry of Justice says that the largest number of racial incidents occur in the German-speaking cantons, with Bern and Zurich heading the list.[41]

August 2005 (court case): Six skinheads received prison sentences ranging from five to six years for the attempted murder of two teenagers in Fraunfeld, Thurgovia in April 2003. The skinheads attacked the two youngsters, aged 15 and 17, for no apparent reason in an isolated area of the train station. The youngest was so seriously injured that he suffered severe brain damage and is now a hemiplegic.[42]


Police statistics from London, Edinburgh, Wales, Lancashire, Thames Valley and Yorkshire show that racially and religiously motivated crimes have almost doubled since the London bombings of 7 July 2005 (see also section on anti-Muslim violence).

One case that is currently before the courts has drawn attention to racism in Merseyside (see also section on anti-Muslim violence).

30 July: Anthony Walker, an 18-year-old sixth form college student, was attacked with an axe and killed in a park near his home in Huyton, Liverpool. He had been walking in the park with his girlfriend, who is white, and his cousin, when they were subjected to a torrent of racial abuse by a man in a hooded cap. He was killed by a single blow delivered with such force that the axe was left embedded in his forehead. A youth aged 17 and a man aged 20 have been arrested for the attacks.

Following the murder, it emerged that there had been many racist incidents in Huyton mainly carried out by school children. In a council election in May 2004 the Liberal Democrat Muslim candidate had received hate mail which stated ‘Listen Paki, you and the other Paki women are taking the piss now trying to get elected. You are lucky to still have a shop and home around this area so [we are] giving you a chance for once’.[43]

Even prior to the London bombings, Belfast had been described by the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland as the ‘hate crime capital of Europe’.[44] The criminal justice system in Northern Ireland has historically lagged behind the UK, with only thirteen people prosecuted for hate crimes since 1987 and police clearance rates for racist crimes extremely low. According to statistics from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), racial incidents have leapt by almost 80 per cent between 2003/04 and 2004/05 (total 813 incidents). Homophobic incidents have risen by 175 per cent (total 196 incidents). The Northern Ireland Commission for Human Rights believes that hostility towards difference cannot be divorced from the culture of violence bred by the Troubles. Tabloid campaigns against illegal immigrants also explain some of the hostility.[45]

Related links

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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