EU report highlights widespread use of ‘stop and search’ on ethnic minorities

By Daniel Boffey

The scale of the discrimination faced by people from minority ethnic backgrounds at the hands of European police forces has been detailed in an EU agency report marking the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by an officer in the US.

The findings of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) highlight a general trend in which minority ethnic people are stopped and searched more regularly across the continent, and the particularly stark picture in some European countries.

Nearly half (49%) of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Austria were stopped by the police during a recent sample year, compared with 25% of the general population, the report finds. Amnesty International wrote last year that there was “institutional racism within the Austrian police force and other component parts of Austria’s criminal justice system”.

A third of Roma in both Croatia and Greece were stopped compared with 18% and 17% of the wider population. In 2018, the Council of Europe (CoE), the 47-member state strong human rights body, castigated the inadequate response of the Croatian authorities to widespread expressions of racism and xenophobia against Serbs, LGBT people, refugees and Roma. The culture of the Greek police has also been heavily criticised by the CoE.

In Spain, just 4% of the general population reported being stopped by police but that rose to 14% of surveyed immigrants from or descended from north Africa and 32% of Roma. Last year the CoE reported that non-discrimination training for police officers had delivered positive results in Spain but officials found “exceptions concerning ethnic profiling by the police when asking for identity papers on the streets”.

In the UK, 3% of the general population was stopped by police compared with 5% of people from or descended from sub-Saharan Africa and 10% of Gypsies and Travellers. The Independent Office for Police Conduct last year criticised the Metropolitan police, responsible for almost half of all the police stops carried out in England and Wales, for multiple errors that had undermined confidence in the community.

It was found that police across the countries surveyed – the 27 EU member states plus the UK and North Macedonia – most often stopped men, young people, minority ethnic people, Muslims or people who did not identify as heterosexual.

Officers searched or asked one in three minority ethnic people for their identity papers compared with 14% of the general population, defined as all groups surveyed. Four in five people in the general population said police treated them respectfully, compared with 46% from minority groups.

The agency’s paper draws on findings from the FRA’s Fundamental Rights Survey (2020), EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey (2017) and its Roma and Travellers Survey (2020).

The FRA also found a strong belief among those stopped in the last five years, in almost all of the countries surveyed, that ethnic profiling led to them being stopped.

Discriminatory profiling, where race or ethnicity is the police’s sole basis for stopping someone, is unlawful across Europe. In some countries, more than 80% of minority ethnic people surveyed perceived their most recent police stop as an example of profiling.

The perception was most common among immigrants and descendants of immigrants from south Asia in Greece (89%) and Roma in the Netherlands (86 %) and Portugal (84%).

Michael O’Flaherty, the director of the FRA, said: “Everyone has a right to be treated equally, including by the police. One year ago, the Black Lives Matter protests underscored the need to tackle racism and discrimination that are still all too common in our societies. It is time to rebuild trust among all communities and ensure police stops are always fair, justified and proportionate.”