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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - United Kingdom

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - United Kingdom, 28 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fedb3e941.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The UK prime minister's condemnation of 'state multiculturalism' and call for a stronger 'shared national identity' stirred up heated reactions in Europe. David Cameron, addressing a security conference in Munich on 5 February 2011, argued that previous policies dealing with ethnic and cultural diversity had encouraged different cultures to live separate lives and 'even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values'. Cameron's speech came after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked on the 'utter failure' of Germany to create a multicultural society in October 2010. Stating terrorism as the biggest threat to his country, Cameron was careful to differentiate between Islam as a religion and Islamic extremism as a political ideology. His speech was nonetheless condemned by the opposition Labour Party, who accused him of 'inflaming racial tensions', and by human rights and Muslim community groups. ENAR argued that Cameron's statement reinforced 'prejudice and discriminatory perceptions against immigrants, and more generally against British Muslims largely perceived as foreigners'.

Policing was also a key concern in 2011. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by the police in Tottenham, north London, on 4 August sparked off violence after years of simmering tensions between locals and the police; riots quickly spread across other neighbourhoods in London and cities in England. David Cameron cut short investigations into the underlying causes, asserting that the riots were 'criminality pure and simple' and that the 'broken society' must be replaced by a stronger sense of morality and responsibility. But human rights groups urged the UK government to conduct a serious public inquiry into the multi-faceted causes of the riots: public policy; social and racial inequality; high unemployment; and cuts in public services and economic collapse. Questions were raised over police responses, especially their stop-and-search policies, for singling out particular minorities and hindering the promotion of equality.

Issues concerning policing are not without precedent in the country. In January 2012, two men were finally convicted of murdering Stephen Lawrence in April 1993. Stephen Lawrence was a black British youth who was murdered while waiting at a bus stop by a gang of young white people chanting racist slogans. A public inquiry was held in 1998 to examine the initial Metropolitan Police Service investigation, led by High Court judge Sir William Macpherson. The inquiry concluded that the police force was 'institutionally racist', and acknowledged professional incompetence as well as a failure of leadership in the capital's police force.

The UK government has not developed a race equality strategy. This was a key issue outlined in the UK NGOs Against Racism submission, led by the Runnymede Trust, to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2011. CERD raised concerns about the government's response to the August riots; the reported increase in negative portrayals of ethnic minorities, immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees by the media, especially pointing to the depiction of minority women as unempowered; and the impact of austerity measures adopted in response to the current economic downturn.

There are an estimated 90,000-120,000 nomadic Travellers and Gypsies in the UK and a further 200,000 who live in housing, according to the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition. The Gypsy and Traveller community of Dale Farm in Essex made major headlines in 2011, galvanizing civic action against their planned eviction from a site between the towns of Billericay and Basildon. In March, Basildon Council cut short a decade-long legal battle with the residents, and voted to take direct action and evict 400 residents from Dale Farm, with only a 28-day notice period and a budget of £18 million put aside for the operation after the High Court ruled that the eviction could go ahead. CERD called on the UK government to suspend the planned eviction of Dale Farm residents and to ensure 'a peaceful and appropriate solution, including identifying culturally appropriate accommodation, with full respect for the rights of the families involved'. The eviction affected 90 families, including older residents, women and 150 children. Representatives from the Council of Europe also visited the site and petitions were signed to stop the largest ever eviction of Travellers in the UK.

UK jurisprudence recognizes Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies as separate ethnic minorities. At Dale Farm, the residents were mainly Irish Travellers. After a short delay granted in September restraining Basildon council from clearing structures until the case had been heard in the High Court, the Court finally ruled that the eviction could go ahead. According to the ruling, the Travellers delayed too long in challenging Basildon's decision, and the council's actions were not deemed to be disproportionate. But hours after the eviction operation started on 19 October, violence erupted. Bricks and debris were thrown at police, as officers used taser electro-shock weapons at close range. The operation to remove caravans and chalets from 51 unauthorized plots finished at the beginning of November, but despite the injunction obtained by Basildon council to prevent reoccupation of the site, some Travellers attempted to return and continue to live there.

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