A report warns of an alarming rise in racially motivated attacks, writes Leonard Doyle, West Europe Editor

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The Independent Online
ON SATURDAY 11 September last, a Moroccan youth named Omar was standing outside a cafe in the Belgian industrial town of Liege chatting noisily with his friends. Moments later he lay dead, felled by a sledgehammer blow from the cafe owner, who justified his actions by saying he wanted the pavement cleared.

The cafe owner has been charged with manslaughter not murder and the police have ruled out a racial motive, even though witnesses said that racist remarks were made before and after the incident.

This incident is one of a number described in a forthcoming report by the British human-rights organisation the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (Carf).

In Eltham, south-east London last April Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man, was stabbed to death when he and a friend were set upon by a gang of young white men while waiting for a bus.

Britain, none the less, is one of the few countries in the European Union to have experienced a fall in the number of racially motivated killings in 1993. The number was down from 12 in 1992 to six last year.

In the case of Joy Gardner, who died during an attempted deportation, and in certain cases in which foreigners have committed suicide while in police detention, researchers generally take the view that death was caused by institutional racism or neglect.

Of all the racially motivated deaths recorded in the EU last year, 17 were of children under the age of 15.

In Germany, nine children under five died in attacks. One of the most disturbing cases occurred in the Netherlands, a country whose reputation for tolerance is being eroded. When nine-year-old Naima Quaghmiri drowned in a shallow lake in Rotterdam after her rubber dinghy capsized, 200 people present failed to help her, and their indifference was caught by video camera. Some bystanders made racist comments to the effect that the girl was only an immigrant and perhaps an 'illegal immigrant' at that.

There were at least 75 racially motivated killings last year, up 13 per cent from the 66 such deaths in 1992, according to the Carf report. There were an unknown number of racial attacks which left thousands of immigrants physically and psychologically scarred.

The vast majority of the killings were carried out by people associated with far- right political organisations, according to Carf, with most of those attacks occurring in Germany. There the number of people killed by racists more than doubled from 25 to 52, despite huge public protests against the rise of attacks on foreigners and efforts by the authorities to crack down on skinheads and other neo-Nazi groups.

A tidal wave of racial attacks continues to sweep the continent, accompanied by a surge in political support for far- right organisations and a sharp shift in public opinion against immigrants and refugees. The far-right parties, like Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front and the Republican Party in Germany, define themselves by a hatred of foreigners and a belief that the continent is being swamped by refugees and illegal immigrants.

The extreme right has whipped up a mood of xenophobia by claiming that Europe is about to be overrun by foreigners. Anti-immigrant sentiment has not been noticably affected by the number of the deaths across Europe and, if anything, has spurred mainstream politicians to go on the offensive against immigrants.

France's Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, claimed this week that there could be a flood of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and another from Africa. 'By the end of the decade there will be 130 million North Africans, including nearly 60 million aged under 20 with no prospects, and further south one billion Africans,' Mr Pasqua said.

Despite the theme of imminent invasion by immigrants the facts reveal a different story. Aggregate figures across the EU show a decline in the numbers of immigrants since 1980, but this has not stopped the attacks on foreigners.

All this is happening at a time when the number of those unemployed is heading towards 20 million and many are suffering severe economic hardship because of cutbacks in social welfare programmes.

Ominously, extremist politicians are expected to benefit from the immigration issue in a series of key elections across Europe this year, including the June elections for the European Parliament. Openly racist and far-right candidates who advocate forcible repatriation are expected to double or even treble in the Euro-elections as a powerful mood of protest drives voters away from established parties.

Because there is no agreed definition in the EU of what constitutes a racially motivated attack, Carf and other organisations like the Institute for Race Relations believe that the racial motivation behind many of the killings has not been brought out by the authorities.

'Deadly Europe' available from Carf, BM Box 8784, London WC1N 3XX