THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE: Has politicians' fixation with this issue sparked a rise in racism?

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The Independent Online
I think there is a rise in the awareness of racism and a rise in Islamophobia. Ten or 15 years ago, society did not regard Islamophobia as racism. Every time there is an event in the world, such as 11 September or the Beslan massacre, Muslims come under attack. I also think anti-immigration attitudes have led refugees to be demonised.

I don't think the British public is any more racist. This is a very tolerant country and people have a lot of common sense. They do not trust everything politicians say. They look at personal relationships, family, friends and co-workers to judge a situation. Most are not falling for any of the attitudes stoked up by papers such as the Daily Express.

I think the scaremongering associated with immigration and asylum-seeking is very wrong and quite disgraceful.

It can be seen how such attitudes have led to attacks on immigrants. It is doing politics no favours that these views exist and it creates a clear anger among the middle classes who are having their fears played on.

The hyped nature of the debate on asylum and immigration has set race relations back many years. I grew up in the 1970s when the National Front was at its height and I remember seeing racist graffiti everywhere and feeling embarrassed when my parents were subject to racist chants. My feeling was that, over time, racism had diminished by the Eighties and early Nineties. The nature of the modern asylum debate has changed that drastically for the worse. The debate encompasses a siege mentality that is completely exaggerated and has even seeped into many broadcasts and broadsheet newspapers.

There's definitely been a rise in racism. When politicians run with the agenda of the right in an irresponsible way, it legitimises arguments of the far right who say asylum-seekers are swamping the country. They don't have a problem with blond Australian boys coming here; what they mean is we have large non-white communities in the UK. It is hysteria managed by the right. Blacks and Asians are being criminalised because of the presumption it's fine to brand foreigners part of a network of international terrorists.

Michael Eboda Editor of New Nation

I was looking at a paper I used to work for 10 years ago and, in that, Mr Howard was saying exactly the same thing about immigration as he is today. I don't think he is taken seriously and people see him for what he is - a hypocrite and an opportunist, because he is the son of an immigrant and because he seems to be jumping on a bandwagon. Racism probably is getting worse overall, but I don't think it's got much to do with the immigration debate. The economic climate is harsher and that tends to lead to blaming people of colour.

In my job, I police one of the most diverse boroughs in London and, in one of the sectors alone, 63 per cent of people are from the black or Asian community, I am very clear that racism is still alive and kicking and I do think that Michael Howard's comments are inflammatory and unhelpful. We have to deal with the aftermath, and attitudes like this can often destabilise communities and attack cohesion, which is something the police need .

Debjani Chatterjee Poet

Britain is a racial mix now and I have seen a lot of changes since I have been here. I would say racism is something we have to be constantly vigilant about. We might see some progress but, for every step forward, there are two steps back and I am very disappointed someone like Michael Howard is not more sensitive to the true make-up of the country. Immigrants have made this country a very true mix and will carry on doing so in the future so it is dangerous to set limits or quotas as people are not looking at the true picture and fear the unknown.