Anti-terror policies risk stirring 'fear and resentment', report claims

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Counter-terrorism policies and anti-extremist programmes are jeopardising efforts to promote integration in Britain, a new report suggests.

A European watchdog claims government initiatives such as Prevent and Channel risk "fomenting fear and resentment" among people from national and ethnic minorities, and the Muslim community in particular.

Prevent is a strand of the Government's overarching counter-terrorism strategy, while Channel is a scheme through which those identified as being art risk of being drawn into extremism are given support by various agencies. It has been receiving a rising number of referrals in recent years.

Both are cited in an assessment of the UK's compliance with the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), a legally binding international treaty setting out a number of principles to help protect national minorities.

It was signed by the UK in 1995 and entered into force in 1998.

The report says the Advisory Committee on the FCNM "points out that the work on integration appears to be jeopardised by certain aspects of counter-terrorism policy and anti-extremism/anti-radicalisation programmes, such as Prevent and Channel, that risk fomenting fear and resentment among persons belonging to national and ethnic minorities, in particular in the Muslim community".

It highlights the introduction of the Prevent duty in 2015, which placed a statutory requirement on state bodies such as schools and councils to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism.

The Advisory Committee "observes that under these programmes liability has been shifted to local authorities and in particular to teachers, to detect early radicalisation," the paper says.

"In the opinion of some of its interlocutors, this has occurred without automatically providing teachers and lecturers with the necessary competence, and putting them at risk of over-reacting for fear of breaking the law."

Prevent has repeatedly attracted controversy, with critics labelling it "toxic" and calling for it to be scrapped.

However, police say it is a crucial plank of wider counter-terrorism and extremism efforts.

The FCNM report welcomes positive steps across the UK to boost the rights of national minorities, but warns that intolerance and hate speech are growing.

It claims discrimination still exists in a number of areas and says global political events and "perceived high levels of immigration" have contributed to episodes of intolerance and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media, political arena and society at large.

The study said: "Overall, persons belonging to ethnic minorities are in a better place in reducing educational gaps, but challenges remain in relation to higher levels of unemployment, low wages, underemployment, worse health status and access to care, high levels of poverty, low levels of English language knowledge and inadequate political representation."

A Government spokeswoman said: "Prevent is about safeguarding people who are at risk of radicalisation.

"Prevent does not target a specific faith or ethnic group - it deals with all forms of extremism and protects those who are targeted by terrorist recruiters.

"Currently the greatest threat comes from terrorist recruiters inspired by Daesh.

"Our Prevent programme reflects this threat with support for vulnerable people at risk of radicalisation by these terrorist recruiters, and we are working in partnership with British Muslim communities and civil society groups to tackle this problem.

"Through Prevent thousands of people in the UK have been safeguarded from targeting by extremists and terrorist recruiters.

"That includes those at risk from far-right and right wing extremism, as well as those vulnerable to Islamist extremism.

"Prevent is fundamentally about safeguarding people, including our children, from the risks of radicalisation and this forms part of a school's wider safeguarding remit alongside protecting children from other harms, such as drugs, gangs and physical and sexual abuse."