Photo of Tim Bechervaise of London metro station St Jame's Park with commuters on the platform

Restorative justice, hate crime and migrant integration

by Tehmina Kazi on behalf of 'Why me?'


  • The integration of migrants in the UK has been undermined by many developments, most notably a rise in hate crime.  
  • There is good evidence to suggest that restorative justice can repair the harm arising from individual hate crimes and hate incidents.  It can also mend divisions within society, including those between migrants and non-migrants.
  • This article seeks to underline the benefits of restorative justice for victims of hate crime, particularly where other barriers to reporting crime - such as language barriers - exist for victims. 

Hate crime in the UK: background

Hate crime is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales as:

“When someone is hostile to another person because of their disability, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity, and they show their hostility by intimidation, harassment, damaging property or violence, it is a hate crime.” 

It is important to note that race hate crime can include any group defined by race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin, including groups like this in the UK (such as Welsh people and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups). It automatically includes a person who is targeted because they are a migrant, asylum seeker or refugee – as this is intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and origins. Both majority groups and minority groups are covered by the relevant legislation

This means that offences with a xenophobic element (such as graffiti targeting certain nationalities) can be recorded as race hate crimes by the police. 

Chart about targeted groups of hate crime in front of a police vehicle

Hate crime in the UK: statistics

In 2017/18, there were 94,098 hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 17% compared with the previous year.

When disaggregated by equality strands, the following hate crime numbers were recorded: 71,251 (76%) race hate crimes; 11,638 (12%) sexual orientation hate crimes; 8,336 (9%) religious hate crimes; 7,226 (8%) disability hate crimes; and 1,651 (2%) transgender hate crimes.

This continues the upward trend in recent years with the number of hate crimes recorded by the police having more than doubled since 2012/13 (from 42,255 to 94,098 offences, an increase of 123%). There have been spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU Referendum of 2016.  As a result of this, some Polish (and other EU) nationals residing in the UK became victims of xenophobic sentiment.  Other catalysts include high-profile terrorist events like the Christchurch attack in New Zealand in 2019, which led to a 593% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime.

Clem Onojeghuo's image of a taxi roof in London

Hate crime in the UK in 2020: Covid-19 situation

Hate crime against people of East Asian descent has risen sharply in the UK since the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. In March 2020, Ian Rollinson, from Dudley, was sentenced at Walsall Magistrates Court for two counts of racially aggravated harassment, assault by beating and theft from a shop.  While stealing £100 worth of aftershave, he shouted out a series of racist words while referring to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, police in Exeter received six reports of attacks and abuse directed at Chinese and other Asian people. The most high-profile case was that of a young man from Singapore, Jonathan Mok, who was walking along Oxford Street on 24th February 2020, when he was beaten up after hearing shouts of “coronavirus.”

Jacob Shutler's photo about London buses

The impact of hate crime upon victims

Victims of hate crime are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, fear and difficulty sleeping than victims of most other types of crime.  This is because hate crime cuts to the heart of their very identity. Becoming a victim of hate crime can also compound feelings of isolation, especially where repeat victimisation occurs, and in instances where the victim already feels excluded from mainstream society. Only one third of hate crime victims are satisfied with police handling of the incident (due to issues like the police not having enough information on how specific groups are targeted, incorrectly flagging incidents, and inappropriate risk assessment and risk management that potentially leaves victims in danger). This compares with three quarters of crime victims in general. It is also important to note the communitarian impact of hate crimes: they threaten society as a whole, as well as the particular individual.

The different challenges experienced by hate crime victims who have different protected characteristics, in terms of barriers to reporting

Many minority groups, particularly migrants, experience significant barriers to reporting hate crime.  English language skills can be a significant barrier.  A new partnership - between Victim Support, the Institute for Criminal Policy Research and the Centre for Justice Innovation, supported by the Bell Foundation - has launched a pioneering study examining the barriers faced by those who have limited English skills when accessing the criminal justice system, in the first large-scale research of its kind in the UK.

As a result of Why me?’s Access to Justice outreach work with community groups in London, Lancashire, Cambridgeshire and Avon & Somerset since 2017, we have gathered evidence on sub-categories of crime experienced by particular communities, as well as equality strand-specific barriers to reporting hate crime. For instance, Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups - including migrant groups - felt that restorative justice services needed to have strong grassroots engagement with BAME communities affected by hate crime. This would help to build sufficient trust among the affected communities for them to make referrals or refer themselves to the restorative justic service, some of whom were already marginalised and felt that their reports of hate crimes would not be taken seriously in any event.  

Victims of hate crime have the following needs: social acknowledgement as a member of the group they belong to (and relevant support), establishing a sense of power and control over their lives and having an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way.  Restorative justice can meet these needs in a number of ways.  Firstly, victims choose to take part in a restorative process, which means that it is inclusive and participatory.  A restorative meeting allows victims to have their voices heard in a controlled, secure environment.  Even if a case does not make it to a meeting, speaking to a supportive facilitator about the impact of the crime can be beneficial in and of itself.

Some hate crime professionals raise re-victimisation as a potential concern for hate crime victims who go through restorative justice. Mark Walters’ book, “Hate crime and restorative justice,” is based on qualitative interviews with victims of hate crime who have been through a restorative process. The overwhelming majority of them said that they did not feel re-victimised at any stage of the process.  In fact, the opposite was true.  Taking Southwark Mediation Hate Crimes Project as a case study, the majority of complainant hate victims interviewed (17/23) stated that the mediation process directly improved their emotional wellbeing. Most participants indicated that their levels of anger, anxiety and fear were reduced directly after the mediation process. Notably, 11 out of 19 separate cases of ongoing hate crime incidents researched in Southwark ceased directly after the mediation process had taken place.  One parent remarked: “Nobody could deal with this issue until you came along.  Now the children are talking.  My children can come out now and play without being harassed.”

No option of conditional caution

All hate crime cases must be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.  This means that the police do not have the option of using a conditional caution, as they do with other crimes.  

This may dissuade migrants from reporting hate crimes, or increase the likelihood that they will withdraw from the process, as they may prefer a restorative process as part of a conditional caution.

Clem Onojeghuo's image about a London street in daylight with trespassers


What do victims want?

It is clear that hate crimes have a significant impact not only on victims, but on fellow members of particular communities who share the same protected characteristic as the victim. For instance, the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that protects British Jews from anti-Semitism, has worked with Greater Manchester Police to make restorative justice available in cases involving anti-Semitic hate crime. However, hate crimes are extremely difficult to prosecute successfully.  This is even more pronounced when the victim already feels marginalised, and when there is a communication gap between them and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, even if a tougher sentence is dispensed for the perpetrator, it will not repair the harm caused by the hate crime or challenge the perpetrator’s prejudice – which is exactly what hate crime victims want and need. 

As the Sussex Hate Crime Project showed:

… respondents were more supportive of restorative justice interventions than prison sentences in response to hate crimes. The majority of respondents would rather have restorative justice than an enhanced jail term.

The restorative justice process enables the prejudices held by the offender to be explored and challenged openly, yet safely. In many cases, these prejudices are then eliminated. This process also allows victims to express their feelings and to question the perpetrators’ motives. This in turn can help the victim to realise that they were not to blame for their victimisation. In a successful restorative justice process, they can also obtain assurances from the offender that they will not be re-victimised.  

As Devorah, a victim of anti-Semitic hate crime who participated in a restorative justice meeting, stated

“I felt that the police were really on target and that they had my back the whole way through.  From them, the two men clearly got the message that nothing like this would be tolerated by the police again and that they would get a criminal record on another occasion.”

Integration not demonisation

A key restorative principle is the reintegration of both ex-offenders and those who are marginalised, which goes some way towards building a more cohesive society.  The latter “does not advocate homogeneity of culture, but a pluralist society where members from different cultures foster a bond with the help of continuous social 

interaction.”  Various international instruments have outlined the importance of creating a safe environment for migrants where they can express their own traditions and deal with the trauma of being displaced. 

Rundell, Sheety and Negrea have analysed how restorative processes enhance the autonomy of migrants, taking as an example an experience in a refugee camp in Europe.  Their main assumption is the fact that restorative processes can diminish refugees’ trauma, by helping them to feel confident and be heard. This aim is achieved by restorative circles, during which specific restorative questions are addressed and people work together without relationships of subordination.

In August 2017, the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration published a report entitled “Integration, not demonisation.”  They pointed to a marked increase in incidents of racist abuse directed at migrants and an unprecedented spike in racially or religiously aggravated hate crime in the months following the European referendum. They called for a major drive to integrate immigrants, warning that they increasingly lead “parallel lives” in Britain. 

Chuka Umunna, former MP and then-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, said in 2017:

“The demonisation of immigrants, exacerbated by the poisonous tone of the debate during the EU referendum campaign and after, shames us all and is a huge obstacle to creating a socially integrated nation. We must act now to safeguard our diverse communities from the peddlers of hatred and division while addressing valid concerns about the impact of immigration on public services, some of which can contribute to local tensions.”

Clem Onojeghuo's photo about a puddle in London

What are the benefits of Restorative Justice for victims of hate crime?

Mark Walters’ research suggests that restorative justice could improve the emotional wellbeing of hate crime victims.  This backs up previous Government research, which has shown that restorative justice can result in 85% victim satisfaction rates as a whole. Since hate crimes are known to have a greater impact on victims than other types of crime, it is all the more crucial to give them an active role in terms of how the offence is addressed. One of the defining features of restorative justice is that it is victim-need led.  

Restorative justice also has proven benefits for offenders and society as a whole, including a 14% reduction in the frequency of re-offending. In hate crime cases, it is particularly important for offenders to see the consequences of their actions, either face-to-face or through another method like letter-writing. The process enables them to see their victims as individuals with unique life stories.  This is particularly crucial for migrants, who are often portrayed as “the other” in mainstream social discourse.  As a Greater Manchester Police Officer observed after a Restorative Justice meeting for anti-Semitic hate crime:

“The offenders were shy at first, but immediately apologetic when asked to talk. They both expressed very genuine apologies – much more genuine than some of the apologies we often receive as police officers.”

Finally, at a time where there are significant divisions between communities, restorative justice can help to heal these divisions and challenge the prejudices that underpin various forms of hate crime. The vast majority of people find hate crime abhorrent and would feel reassured to know of the existence of safe and effective responses like restorative justice.


The UK has seen a sustained rise in hate crimes over the past ten years, with spikes after specific incidents such as the European referendum in Britain and the Covid-19 outbreak. There is good evidence to suggest that restorative justice can repair the harm caused by individual hate crimes and hate incidents. On a broader scale, it can help to challenge the prejudices that underpin various forms of hate crime and mend divisions between communities, including migrants and non-migrants.  This is because it humanises the victim to the offender. There should be much greater awareness of restorative justice for hate crime victims across the UK, at all stages of the criminal justice process.

Call to action

The need to develop good practice, as described above, must include the people affected i.e. migrants.  All interventions should be participatory in nature, rather than exclusionary.

Restorative justice and the integration of migrants is an under-researched but fast-developing area, ripe for greater potential opportunities for research and practice.  Research projects will help us gather evidence of what works, while development projects will demonstrate what works.  In these divided and difficult times, such interventions could represent a real boon for those who are crossing borders, and for the host societies who should be making this transition as painless as possible.

Tehmina Kazi

About the author:  Tehmina Kazi is the Restorative Justice Development Officer at Why me? (currently on maternity leave).  She can be e-mailed on 

The views presented in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the EFRJ.