Post-Brexit Attacks on Poles Prompt Delegation to Visit U.K.

  • Ministers meet U.K. counterparts to discuss Poles’ safety
  • Pole was beaten to death in Harlow, near London, two weeks ago

Two Polish government ministers visited London to discuss the safety of the almost million Poles living in the U.K. amid an increase in violence against immigrants following the Brexit referendum.

The snap visit on Monday by Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak came after a Pole was beaten to death in Harlow, north of London, late last month and two Polish nationals were “brutally assaulted” in the same town on Sunday. Police are investigating the incidents as potential hate crimes following a spike in anti-foreigner sentiment in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union in June.

QuickTake Brexit

The surge in violence comes two weeks before an EU summit where the bloc’s 27 leaders -- excluding the U.K. -- will discuss the way forward. Poland’s government, which supports calls for looser oversight from Brussels but is categorically against limiting the free movement of labor, have gained assurances that the authorities will closely monitor the investigation and react against any signs of anti-Polish sentiment in the British media, ministers said.

Witold Waszczykowski

Photographer: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

‘We’re not here to criticize, blame or accuse. We’re here to find facts,” Waszczykowski told reporters in London after meeting his counterpart Boris Johnson. “We’re here to solve the problems together.”

The ministers talked for more than an hour with Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, with Poland offering police assistance in the investigations, Blaszczak said. He expressed “surprise” that six of the suspects in the death probe were released on bail.

‘Wholly Condemned’

“We recognize the valuable contribution the Polish make to Britain,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters at a regular briefing before the ministers’ visit. David Davis, the British minister responsible for Brexit, also told lawmakers that anti-foreigner rhetoric in the wake of the referendum should be “wholly condemned.”

Poland’s central statistical office said that a record 2.4 million Poles lived abroad in 2015, compared with 1 million when the formerly communist country joined the EU in 2004. The figures published on Monday show 720,000 Polish citizens are in the U.K., less than estimated by U.K. authorities.

Tax Payers

The U.K.’s migrant population has almost doubled to 8.3 million in the two decades ending in 2014, according to think-tank The Migration Observatory, with Poles topping the list of foreign citizens living there.

Poland wants the British government to start an educational campaign showing the positive contribution Poles and other foreigners have made in the country, Waszczykowski said after meeting Johnson in Warsaw three days ago.

In London, Waszczykowski said an “overwhelming majority” of the Polish community in the U.K. are “hard-working people who contribute to society,“ pay taxes and “deserve to be protected.”

— With assistance by Svenja O'Donnell, Marta Waldoch, and Marek Strzelecki

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