Immigration-Related Crime and Its Impact on the Rise of Populism in the UK


Ilustrasi Nigel Farage. Foto: FPCI UI.

“The UK must be such a splendid country.”

At least that was what the writer thought when he stepped foot for the first time in the UK, on a chilly summer afternoon in 2018. But he then would realize that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are a lot of problems on this island which once had the biggest empire on earth. There is more to this country, especially in regard to immigration, crime, politics, and populism. Therefore in this Diplomatic Review, the writer will try to elaborate more on the uneasy situation in the United Kingdom for the common reader, primarily focusing on the impacts of immigrant-related crimes on the rise of populism in British politics.

This Diplomatic Review will firstly examine the backgrounds of major British populist movements as a reaction towards immigrant-related crimes. Next, it examines the correlation between mass immigration and crime. This will then be further ascertained by reviewing the UK’s policies on integrating immigrants, and how it influenced Brexit. Finally, it focuses on several possible solutions to the issues and how it can be a valuable lesson for Indonesia.


When the writer was trying to change SIM cards in a store near a Metrolink tram station in Manchester, he was quite shocked to find that the shopkeeper couldn’t speak English. A similar thing occurred when he tried to buy some souvenirs in Central London. This is not what he imagined to happen, as he was in the native land of the English language. When he searched deeper, he discovered that immigrants in the UK have far more problems than just language difficulties, which is just a tiny branch which stemmed from subsequent failed policies by the government. This has led to bigger problems, which will be explained in this Diplomatic Review.

The Rotherham Sex Abuse Scandal

In October 2013, the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council commissioned the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, led by a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government, Alexis Jay. The report, which was later published on 26th of August 2014, revealed that approximately 1,400 children were sexually abused between 1997 and 2013. This nauseating story was even tougher to grasp when the report stated that instead of protecting these children (most of them young girls), both the police and councilmen considered the victims as “undesirables” that were unworthy of being protected.

Another reason why these children were neglected, was that several council staffs were afraid to be called “racist” if they were to identify the perpetrators who did this chain of terrifying crimes. According to British philosopher Sir Roger Vernon Scruton, the law enforcers (in this case the Rotherham police) are more concerned of political correctness instead of the true facts of the crime, in which all of the abusers were adult males of Pakistani descent, and the victims were mostly white British underage females. Scruton said that the safety of young children should’ve been the top priority for the police, instead of focusing on the fear of being deemed a racist or ostracized from their workplaces.

In terms of finding the perpetrators, in December 2014 the National Crime Agency (NCA) set up Operation Stonewood to investigate further into the sexual crimes, which traced the crimes to an estimated 426 grooming gang members, mostly with immigrant backgrounds from South Asia. In October 2018, seven men were convicted a total of 24 offenses, which included rape and sexual assault. Whilst some of the perpetrators were going to jail, a lot of the survivors of this inhumane offenses have since suffered through depression, drug addiction, abortions, and suicidal tendencies. To this day, there are still a lot of the abusers who remained unpunished for their crimes.

Unfortunately, these horrible exploitations didn’t only occur in Rotherham alone. A lot of young girls had also experienced a similar fate in many cities, which then sent shock waves across the nation. Another town with an unbelievable number of cases was Rochdale in Greater Manchester (with 47 victims between 2008 and 2010), which had resulted in 19 men convicted, all of them are from Pakistani origins as well. A recent study even found out that a whopping 19,000 children were sexually exploited (groomed) in England in the year 2019, 3.300 more cases than five years ago. Other towns with infamous child sexual abuse rings are Aylesbury, Bristol, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Peterborough, and many more.

Failures from the police, councilmen, politicians, and the government to solve what is now called an “epidemic”, has led to public outrage, tension, and distrust amongst different communities throughout the UK. With a rough estimate of 73 towns experiencing immigrant “grooming gangs”, it shall not come as a surprise that this situation escalates to a much bigger stage, in the form of nationalist-populist politics. One of the driving forces to this rise of populist activism is Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the English Defence League (EDL). 

Tommy Robinson and the EDL

When the Oxford Union invited convicted criminal and former EDL leader Tommy Robinson to speak in front of students in November 2014, there were several groups who protested against him performing a speech about the background to his activism. To understand more about why he is regarded as one of the most controversial figures in the UK, we need to look at the two sides of the coin.

Ever since its emergence on the national scene in 2009, the English Defence League has gained a lot of mainstream media and public attention, until its decline in 2011. With their supposedly ultra-nationalist rhetoric which sometimes had escalated to violence against the police or left-wing protesters, the media has defamed EDL members as being racist, xenophobic, islamophobic, and far-right neo-Nazis. Whilst there has been a lot of criticism of Tommy Robinson and the EDL’s “extreme fascist” actions, several political experts believe that this widespread view on the construction of EDL’s ideological standing as a fascist movement is not entirely correct. Unlike the minor far-right party BNP (British National Party), the EDL’s concern is merely focused on radical Islamist groups which have established a strong foothold in the UK, such as the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, which became the target of merged EDL protests. This Sunni sect was also linked to Osama Bin Laden and hateful preachers like Anjem Choudary. The protests against the homecoming British troops in Luton (March 2009) by the sect was the final straw which ignited the spark for Robinson to create the EDL. Robinson, who was born and raised in Luton, felt this was a personal matter for all the communities who were being threatened by the rise of this radical Islamist group and surge of crime in their hometown. 

It is also important to differentiate between Robinson’s personal points of view and the EDL as a whole. While its founders intended the movement to be an act of unity against negative behaviors of many members of the Muslim community (such as the ones in Rotherham), several EDL supporters “hijacked” the movement by installing racist ideas, even going as far as helping Andres Behring (Norwegian fascist-terrorist) to plot the 2011 mosque bombings in Breivik. This eventually led to the exit of Robinson from the organization in 2013. This exit was supported by Quilliam, a London-based think tank, founded by Maajid Nawaz and focuses on counter-extremism. The moderate approach on Islam by the muslim founders of Quilliam indicate that because a lot of regular Muslims felt intimidated by EDL’s presence, there has been more Muslim scholars in the UK who try to accomodate all sides of the spectrum, bringing immigrant communties to better understand the concepts of Western democracy and freedom of speech (expression). They believe that having respectable conversations are always better than committing acts of violence. However, lately violence is not something uncommon in many parts of the UK, especially London.

Mass Immigration and its Relation to Crime

Knife Crime Epidemic in London and Other Cities

When foreigners think of London, they imagine Buckingham Palace with its posh surroundings, the beautiful classical structure of Westminster Abbey, or the picturesque Tower Bridge. London seems like a nice city to live in. However in reality, many of its inhabitants are concerned about the city’s condition. Hundreds of teenagers from immigrant families were sent from the UK to Africa, to avoid the brutal knife crime epidemic which has ravaged the capital city. This desperate choice was taken by parents because they fear for their children’s lives. These teenagers would not have got proper education and a normal youth life if they were to stay in London.

The knife crime has seriously damaged a lot of communities throughout the city, and the statistics have shown just how worse it got. According to The Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were more than 15,000 knife offences committed, as of September 2019. It has gotten even worse nationwide as there were more than 44,700 knife crimes, which is 120 a day, on average. Big cities (with metropolitan areas) account for a third of all knife crimes, with London having the highest rate of offences (169) per 100,000 people. 

In October 2019, with details collected from 43 regional police forces under Freedom of Information Law, the BBC released their findings on knife crime rates across the UK. Although it is clearly seen that London is the most dangerous city in England, there has also been a spike in knife crime in other major cities like Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool. According to the BBC’s findings and the UK’s Home Office, knife crime has increased in the UK (primarily) due to police budget cuts, violence between gangs, and clashes of drug dealers. Since the Home Office did not release the exact ethnic backgrounds of perpetrators in its crime statistics, it is quite difficult to determine the precise number of offences committed among different ethnic groups in the UK. But since London had 16 areas at the nation’s top 25 (of places with the most crimes), there has been a lot of speculation circulating on the probable root cause: immigration.

A New and Different Wave

According to the recent migration statistics published by the House of Commons Library, approximately 642,000 people had migrated to the UK, as of March 2019. By June 2019, there were 6.2 million people of foreign nationality, which is about 9 percent of the UK population. The numbers migrating to and from the UK was fairly balanced until the year 1998, in which immigration to the UK surmounted emigration by more than 100,000. As to be expected, London has the largest concentration of immigrants, with 35 percent of people born abroad living in the capital. But this statistic is exclusively about the recorded (legal) immigrants. In terms of origin, Poland (9%) is the top country for the foreign-born migrants, followed by India and Pakistan.

However, the usual presumptive suspect of crimes in big cities are the undocumented (illegal) immigrants (or at least their descendants). As specified by Pew Research Center, it is estimated that there are around 800,000 to 1,2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the UK, with 52 percent coming from Asia, and 20 percent from sub-Saharan African nations. As they are in marginalized communities with very little resources and help from law enforcers, illegal immigrants have become more exposed to crime since a very young age, either as a street gang member involved in the offences, or being vulnerable victims with a very slim chance of survival. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of March 2019 there were 4,451 knife crime perpetrators under the age of 18. This number of crimes committed by young people is a major concern especially for the immigrant families, as many poor teenagers are suffering from deprivation, from which then they were turned to drugs and weapons. With no money or skill to obtain their needs, these young immigrants look for opportunities to generate cash illegally. 

To be cognizant of the impacts of new waves of immigrants in accordance with the new culture of crime in the UK, we need to examine deep into the very heart of the epidemic itself, the gang members. In an interview with the Evening Standard, a prominent gang member from Plumstead (South East London), explained that ever since a new wave of Somali and Congolese immigrants entered the UK (in early 21st century), the violence on the streets has reached a new level of brutality. From stabbings to mutilations, the severity of this atrociousness reaches new heights with the emergence of drill music, a form of rap which dignifies blade crime culture. This furthermore shall urge the necessity of action and awareness from local authorities, councilmen, families, and organizations to protect the youth from negative influences which may lead to fatal outcomes.

Above all else, there needs to be strong leadership from the highest authority of the region, in this case Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. Unfortunately, his statements about terror attacks and high level of crime being “part and parcel” of living in a big global city, has raised doubts and questions among a lot of London residents. Does living in a big city always equate to fear of crime? Take the biggest city in the world, for example. The Tokyo-Yokohama (Japan) urban area is the biggest city in the world, with an estimated population of 37 million people (2015), but yet it is also the safest city in the the world. Another thing to take into consideration is the tough immigration laws that contribute to the low total of both legal and illegal immigrants in Japan. As of early 2015, there were an estimated 60,000 illegal immigrants in Japan, a large difference from the UK’s numbers. The big cities, particularly London, can learn more from the steps taken by the Japanese government to ensure safety for their citizens.

The UK’s Policy on Integration

The Foundation and Reasoning for Integration

Whilst the high crime rates in major cities across the UK is an enormous issue which needs to be tackled, there are several other important factors which are instrumental in the crimes itself and the fairly recent rise of populism in the nation. One of which is the assumed failure of immigrant populations to integrate with the British population. Before going any further, we ought to know the (often confused) difference between integration and assimilation.

Principally speaking, assimilation is the adoption of another culture and becoming a part of a different society altogether. Meanwhile, integration is commonly defined as equally including individuals from different backgrounds and groups into a society. To better acknowledge the importance of steps to integrate immigrants to the British culture and way of life, we need to look at the history of multiculturalism in the modern state of the UK, that goes as far back as the 1960s, when the UK had lost its foothold on most of its (former) colonies around the world. The failure to secure control over the Commonwealth had diminished the British exceptionalism in politics, and it was preceded by the government’s commitment to two traditions which directly correlated to the affirmative British Nationality Act 1948, which were anti-racism and creation of citizenship with full range of rights.

At the birth of “British Multiculturalism” in the 1960s, efforts were made to control the relations between race and ethnicities which led to the 1965 Race Relations Act, which outlawed racial discrimination. There were a lot of compromising that had to be done by two of UK’s biggest political parties (Conservative and Labour), in which the UK’s shift toward the preference of integration over assimilation was epitomized by the consensus between both major parties to abandon former PM Harold Macmillan’s “One Nation” conservatism. The move went as far as no assimilation should be required into the anglophone culture, as famously stated by Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins in May 1966. This preference towards integration even survived during the reign of Margaret Thatcher, who although seemed anti-immigration, was actually favourable towards the “integration not assimilation” approach. This was due to the fact that Thatcher was committed to universal citizenship rights by her brand of neoliberalism, implemented by passing more accommodations for minorities in the 1970s.

Has Multiculturalism with the Integration Approach Failed?

Fast forward to the 21st century UK, even without forced assimilations for immigrants, the country still faces problems in integrating massive amounts of foreign newcomers to the British society. Or were the integration policies which were cemented in the previous decades bound to fail eventually? From the start of the 21st century, the United Kingdom’s official policy framework for multiculturalism has been increasingly problematic. In 2004, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality controversially said that multiculturalism should be “discarded”, pushing for the need of a common British identity, instead of the suggested “separatism”. Still, the most controversial and important statements came from David Cameron. In 2007, he stated that the creed of multiculturalism has deliberately weakened the nation’s collective identity, furthermore dividing British society. Later on the former PM would add that because state multiculturalism has failed, he saw that it would be fit for the British government to learn from the failed policies of the past. But has the government truly “learned” from these past mistakes? Because ironically, the statistics showed that immigration numbers have been going up, without real efforts to create solutions for problems related to immigrants already living in the UK.

No matter how hard the government pushes its efforts to fix the obstacles and problems related to modern-day multiculturalism, the stumbling blocks which made its way to past issues have created damages to society which cannot be reversed, especially those which were linked with cross-culture clashes and hate (racist) crimes. The experiences of hate and distrust among communities cannot be simply thrown out of the window, as it reflects the failures of previous integration policies and principles which were relatively weaker than several countries’ historical policy frameworks on the subject matter. Although multicultural integration was seen as a great way to include immigrants into the British society, the very essence of its original planning was not structured well enough to support the contrasts between both sides of the population, which is the native whites and the immigrants. The ideas from past politicians which propelled the multicultural integration policies were not to create an exemplary framework, but instead it emerged as a rejection of the possibilities of assimilation.

Of course, one might have an opinion that integration is still better than assimilation. Different viewpoints are there to be contested. But starting from early 2010s to the critical year of 2016, this issue of integration failures reached a whole new level of importance. New populist movements have risen from dormancy, and took center-stage in British politics, joining in a massive public discontent over EU-centered bureaucracy and regulations. Problems of immigration and crime were brought upon discussions and debates, which led the UK to its exit from the European Union, sending shockwaves across the continent and the globe.

Brexit and the Rise of Nationalist Populism

Culmination of Discontent

During the tough and lengthy process of exiting the European Union, immigrant crime is one of the main subjects which were often talked about as a primary cause for Brexit. While the economic and market issues surrounding Brexit and the problems with the NHS are still the biggest concern bothering British citizens, there was a substantial increase in public worry on crime and immigration. 

On the grounds of immigration and crime problems, nationalist groups began to rise with populist slogans which attracted new followers to blame the many problems of the country to the government’s lack of responsibility for bringing massive amounts of immigrants to the UK. The division became more visible when the refugee influx in many parts of Western Europe have made these nationalists with their anti-immigration rhetoric clash with supporters of the “Refugees Welcome” campaigns. This public division was an unprecedented scene, with governments across Europe (including the UK’s) being pressured to make changes on their foreign policy on the subject of immigration.

To further understand public perception towards immigrants in the UK, one shall note that there has been various differences in attitudes in relation to different ethnic and social groups. The framing of crime against immigrants have led the public to associate different types of immigrants with different threats. The general population would likely fear more for their security when facing a Muslim immigrant, but have more economic worries about knowing the arrival of Eastern European immigrants. As one of the most noticeable issues shaping Western democracy, the subject of immigration may drive negative attitudes towards ethnicities of the “outsiders”, which then become a breeding ground for unwanted racial stereotypes and prejudices. 

Several important things which can explain the anti-immigrant sentiment are the assumed threats which immigration may bring against the native population. The most prominent recognized threats are economic competition, cultural identity, security concerns, and crime. Researchers got the evidence that the majority of the public in Western countries believe immigration increases crime levels, fueling the feelings of threat against immigrants. The two previously mentioned salient immigrant types (Muslims and Eastern Europeans), are worried by the British population due to the perception installed by their own experiences or the media. While Eastern Europeans are feared because of their “dangers” that they impose on the native working class’ labour competition and economic crimes , the Muslims have sparked concerns due to threats of Islamist extremism and terrorism. Cultural differences between the natives and these immigrants also became a major issue in which past integration policies previously failed to address. 

Finally, the rising hostility towards mass immigration is attributed to the declining social status of the native white working class of the UK. This group is one of the least educated people in the country, with failures from the government to concentrate on improving living and working conditions of the poor white communities. If the government couldn’t even sort its problems with its own natives, then it would be very difficult for them to integrate new immigrants to what was an already problematic situation in the native working class communities. Successive British governments have catered to anti-immigrant sentiment rather than addressing the continual policy failures behind it.

A Division fueled by the Media

As briefly mentioned before, the media plays a part in provoking divisive narratives, directly or indirectly separating communities even further. Some are trying to put immigrants as scapegoats for the ongoing problems in the country, some are forcing the need of accepting illegals, refugees, and asylum seekers, against the will of many native citizens and legal immigrants. Several large tabloids and newspapers have used their online platforms to instigate the public view on immigration, mixing related vocabularies to the point in which there is no clarity of facts, as it is deluged in the media’s personal biased opinions. The media had also taken part in the overflow of misinformation (hoax), stemming from unclear and sensitive yet gripping choice of words such as ‘benefits’, ‘religion’, ‘jobs’, ‘wave’, ‘influx’, and ‘suspected’, as found in a research by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. This has been proven to break relations between people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, especially those in cities which suffer huge numbers of crime.

Possible Solutions

As the United Kingdom has officially exited the European Union on January 31st, 2020, the situation creates full sovereignty of creating laws according to the concerns of the British people. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the UK citizens that there shall be steps taken to prevent even more unwanted consequences of immigration. Here are several possible solutions which can improve immigration-related policies, especially those which directly or indirectly relate to crime.

Stop Mass-Migration

The UK has a massive amount of immigrants for a relatively small island. Before bringing in more foreigners to the country, the UK government must focus on a lot of issues needed to be solved inside the country first, before dealing with immigrants from different backgrounds who have no intention on uplifting the country. As mentioned before, a lot of politicians have made immigrants their scapegoat, often defaming them for being a burden to the nation. There is some truth in that sense, but in many cases these politicians were diverting the public from their inadequate policies on vital public services, such as the NHS. There has not been a single mainstream party putting great focus on crime, which directly impacts the safety of citizens. Both the ruling Conservatives and the opposing Labour party could not come up with any real solutions to tackle crime. London, as the nation’s capital and a Labour-governed city, is a prime example of how even the opposition party cannot bring good solutions to counter the government.

This obviously was capitalized by newly formed populist parties, such as The Brexit Party (with its then leader Nigel Farage), which massively helped push the UK towards Brexit, advocating for anti-immigration policies and shocking the mainstream establishment in the process. Even before the shockwaves of Brexit, in 2013 former Labour home secretary Jack Straw stated that he has regretted opening the country to mass-migration during his party’s administration in the 1990s to early 2000s, in which the then government let in an Eastern European immigration influx in rapid rates, all of them settling in one particular area (East Lancashire). This particular example of failed policy created a social dislocation, since there was no allocation of time and effort to integrate the newcomers to respect British values and natives. If the UK keeps bringing in unskilled labor, poverty numbers will rise, thus leading to higher crime rates.

Push for Better Assimilation Policies

The writer previously mentioned that clashes between different communities are not a rare sight in modern-day UK. Weak integration policies have created segregation among different ethnicities, without any sense of unity of what it means to be “British”. This affected long-standing immigrant communities, who have even struggled in adapting to the pace of present immigration rates. The mainstream parties have gone so far to accommodate “diversity” and “multiculturalism”, that they forget several negative consequences such as regressive religious practices, new forms of crimes, and terrorism. This is all due to the new culture of  “political correctness” or the fear of being called a “racist”. There is a necessity of national values, in which the UK can learn from other nations. American-style assimilation could be suggested in the UK, in which the cultures of immigrants are still maintained in households, but temporarily left behind during professional work and business. With the populists’ win on Brexit, it can be clearly seen that the “silent majority” has spoken its will. Those who do not respect a country’s values shall better leave. 

If the government assistance was better in helping communities feel safe and secure, there won’t be any populist uprising in the UK. Until today, many UK and European politicians refused to acknowledge their citizens’ fear of mass-migration. London, with many other cities in the UK, are no longer safe places to live. Brexit nationalist-populism was the climax of displeasure among the British public. If the government wants to curb this nationalist populism from reaching new heights, then they must review their previous foreign policies on immigration, and focus on listening to the demands of its own citizens.

Strengthen The Efforts to Tackle Crime

As mentioned previously in this review, one of the main concerns of British public is the spike in crime rates, especially on knife crimes which resulted in fatal stabbings that are destroying communities’ livelihoods. To tackle this issue, the government must give better education of the law to citizens. To bring proper education of the warnings and dangers of knife crime, the government should involve elements from sectors of education, health, social services, housing, youth and social workers. As crime affects all layers of society, native and immigrant, the involvement of all key members of the public will help rebuild trust between law enforcement and British citizens. This holistic approach has been proven successful in reducing homicides in Glasgow (Scotland). The city even went further, by involving prisons, facilitating former offenders to skill-trainings which can help them find jobs, to minimize their risk of them going back to the criminal lifestyle. Law enforcers must also understand  more on the issues facing immigrant communities, to give their youths protection from negative influences.


Formerly the world’s most powerful empire, the United Kingdom in this modern era should know better on how to withstand pressure from within its borders. Subsequent governments had failed to integrate immigrants to become beneficial for the society. Instead, immigrants became vulnerable to become perpetrators and victims of crime, generally due to their impoverished neighborhoods, without any government attention to help them assimilate with the rest of the country. Therefore, the populism which happened through Brexit could be seen as inevitable. Consecutively, the government had pushed for a forced sense of diverse multiculturalism, which laid ground to more serious problems like the growth of extremism and misuse of freedom of expression, without respecting the country’s institutions and values. After reviewing the UK’s previous foreign policies on immigration, the writer believes if the government does not sort its internal problems, they would fall from being a prominent global powerhouse to just another European nation.

How can Indonesia learn from the UK?

Contrary to the historically homogeneous native white population of the UK, Indonesia as a country had always been a fairly multicultural nation ever since its conception. With a very diverse population consisting of various tribes, ethnicities, and religions, Indonesia was founded on the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance. The recent waves of immigration to the UK and its impact on the British society as a whole, shall be thoroughly learnt by the Indonesian government and citizens as a lesson that shows in order to sustain a diverse population, there is a crucial need to uphold the values of the nation as intended by the founding fathers. With Pancasila as the philosophical foundation, Indonesia can move forward as a nation, as long as it upholds the root principles which strives for unity, sovereignty, and prosperity.


All references cited in this Diplomatic Review can be accessed through  

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