Racism on the rise in Britain
Strasbourg - Racist attacks are on the rise in Britain, where both politicians and the tabloid media routinely disparage Roma gypsies, Muslims and migrants, a European rights watchdog charged on Tuesday.
Race-linked offences in England and Wales jumped from 31 000 in 2003 to more than 38 000 five years on, according to a report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) based on British government figures.
More than 13 000 race or discrimination cases were successfully prosecuted in 2007-2008, against 8 800 for the previous two years, said the commission, which is part of the pan-European Council of Europe rights body.
Asylum-seekers were often vulnerable to hasty decisions to reject their claims, unnecessary detention and intense public hostility, the report said.
"Together with Muslims, migrants, Gypsies, they are regularly presented in a negative light both in political discourse and in the media, especially the tabloid press," it added.
Roma faced "some of the most severe levels of hostility and prejudice" in modern Britain.
But stop and search practices ordered under new anti-terror laws also "disproportionately" affected blacks, Muslims and other minority groups, ECRI said, urging Britain to boost the share of minorities in the force.
Anti-Semitic incidents were also on the rise, as was the number of anti-Semitic comments in leading British media.
The watchdog acknowledged British authorities had toughened the legal framework for fighting racism and discrimination, and were working to promote racial equality in jobs and education, with school results already improving.
But overall, the ECRI report said "the tone of public debate continues to include some elements of racist and xenophobic discourse".
Britain was not alone in being criticised by the Council of Europe for its treatment of Roma gypsies.
Kids placed in handicapped schools
Roma also faced severe forms of discrimination in Estonia, where their children were systematically placed in schools for the disabled, despite having no handicap.
In a report on racism in Estonia, also released on Tuesday, ECRI slammed the country for failing to punish discrimination based on nationality, race, colour or religion unless it endangers a person's life or property.
Similarly, in a report on Albania, it criticised the country for failing to adopt laws to tackle discrimination against minorities, especially impoverished Roma and Egyptian Albanians who are currently denied the vote.
Austria, by contrast, has adopted laws to combat discrimination but they are rarely applied, with blacks and Muslims most exposed to discrimination but Jews also facing persistent anti-Semitism, ECRI said.
Employers in Austria can choose to sack foreign workers first, housing ads can discriminate against minorities, and minority children are left to fall by the wayside at school, ECRI wrote in a country report.
Like in Britain, ECRI accused some politicians and media of whipping up hostility towards asylum-seekers.
On a plus note, ECRI said Austria had made headway in recent years on improving the plight of Roma gypsies.