UK: Security funding for places of worship launch by Home Office
By Baroness Williams
London, (The Muslim News): Over the past year, faith has been a source of strength and hope for many. The pandemic has obviously disrupted religious practices and curtailed large gatherings. But as more lockdown restrictions ease, religious buildings including mosques will once again become the heart of many communities. This will be an immensely happy time for Muslim worshipers across the country who have had to settle for marking festivals such as Ramadan and Eid over Zoom.
As the vaccine programme continues its successful rollout and overall case numbers fall across the country, we of course want all worshipers to feel safe to gather once again. Unfortunately, there remains a minority who will target religious buildings such as mosques, either to carry out wanton acts of vandalism or because they are motivated by religious and racial hatred.
We take hate crime extremely seriously. No one should feel persecuted simply for who they are and how they worship. I am saddened when I see any examples of such hate and division. Just a few weeks ago worshipers at the Ilford Islamic Centre were pelted with eggs and stones in a suspected anti-Muslim attack. That is simply unacceptable, and I know the police will do all they can to bring the offenders to justice.
Incidents like that is why we have launched the latest round of our Places of Worship protective security funding scheme. Bids are open for faith organisations who have experienced or are vulnerable to hate crime, so they can improve security such as installing CCTV, or intruder detection systems.
Following the anniversary of the horrific Christchurch mosque attack, the scheme was doubled to £3.2 million. In the 2019/ 2020 round, mosques were the biggest recipients of the grants with 26 mosques receiving funding to bolster their security measures. This included a Muslim community centre in the Midlands who were awarded £55,000 to install an access control system, an intruder detection system and CCTV. This year, £3.5m is available for bids.
Sadly, we know that religiously motivated hate crime has increased and according to the latest police recorded statistics, just under half of these offences were targeted against Muslims (3,530). While we don’t want Muslims to feel alarmed, we want them to remain vigilant, and we are doing all we can to keep them protected and offer peace of mind.
Following the Christchurch attack, we funded training sessions prior to and during Ramadan to provide advice to mosque leaders on how to improve security. We also launched a consultation last year to try and understand from faith groups what more we should be doing to protect places of worship. The results are currently being analysed and we will update soon. This is in addition to the regular engagement the Government has with key organisations and groups including Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, Tell MAMA and the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime which helps us understand local tensions and respond to the risks. Since its launch in 2016, we have made improvements to ensure the Places of Worship scheme and accompanying guidance is easier to access and funding reaches the organisations that need it the most.
Nobody should suffer from hate crime in silence and victims should report incidents to the police. I would urge any Muslim faith organisations who have evidence of hate crime in their local area to come forward and apply to the scheme to help keep their worshipers safe.
Baroness Williams is Minister of State for Countering Extremism, Home Office
[Photo: Baroness Williams, Minister of State for Countering Extremism, Home Office. Photo provided by Home Office]
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