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Britain’s asylum seekers are the ones in real danger

Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist who has worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian. She writes about race, gender and Islam.

Last week, teenager Reker Ahmed was standing at a bus stop in Croydon, in the southeast of London, when his life changed forever.

Police say that he was asked where he was from. After the Kurdish teenager explained he was an asylum seeker, he was chased and beaten within inches of his life, sustaining a fractured skull and a blood clot on his brain.

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He is in critical condition in hospital.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, issued a statement to say there is no place for hate crime in London or in the country and the perpetrators will be prosecuted.

The attack on the teenager triggered vivid memories of another young man standing at a bus stop – horrifically, his life was snatched away by racists. It was 24 years ago that 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in a racist attack as he stood with a friend at a bus stop in South East London.

Mr. Lawrence's brutal, racist murder and the release of the subsequent Macpherson Report was a watershed moment for the Metropolitan Police and race relations in Britain.

The suspected hateful violence unleashed against Mr. Ahmed has provided a moment of short pause for sections of the British tabloid press, which had spent the past year in the run-up to the Brexit vote highlighting the alleged danger and threats to Britain – and the so-called British way of life – by immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

The attack on this innocent man, however, suggests that Britain is less safe for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees – particularly now, as racism has been further mainstreamed by Brexit, and recorded hate crime has increased.

This year, The Sun newspaper ran stories questioning whether the child refugees arriving were in fact children – ahead of the government announcing it was closing the program to accept unaccompanied child refugees.

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Former England football captain and hero turned BBC Sports presenter Gary Lineker was vilified for his calls for the government to show greater compassion and protection to refugees.

Here in Britain, we continue to be swamped with images, stories and hysterical headlines about the swarms of dark-skinned, Muslim-looking people surging toward the British Isles.

During the Brexit campaign, Vote Leave leader Nigel Farage stood in front of a giant poster with the headline "Breaking Point" over images of a crowd of dark-skinned people who looked like they were walking toward the United Kingdom ready to storm the country.

It is this toxic environment that has poisoned so much of our politics and popular media coverage: It translates into real life, onto our streets, with hate crimes and hate speech.

I was speaking to a campaigner advocating on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers a few weeks ago. She told me that for the first time in her life, she was questioning the work she and her fellow campaigners are doing to put pressure on the authorities to close down immigration detention centres in Britain.

"In the current climate, I'm seriously worried about the dangers and risks vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees face and the real prospect of them being subjected to violence out on the streets. This country is no longer safe for them."

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After Mr. Ahmed was attacked, the everyday people of Britain came together to support an online fund to raise money to help him recover. Compassion, humanity and anguish about what had happened to him and what is happening to our country has pushed the public to raise £20,000 (more than $33,000) in three days.

This is the type of British citizen giving me hope.

It is the British people who have responded to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in France and Greece, volunteering their services abroad, packing up their cars with provisions and donations.

At supermarkets and shops it is the British people who are donating provisions to collection boxes for charities working with asylum seekers and refugees.

Our right-wing politicians, the racist, hate-filled people amongst us, and our blind tabloid media would do well to open their eyes and take a leaf out of these citizens' books. This is who we should be.

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