Has coronavirus prompted rise in racist incidents across Europe?


The Covid-19 outbreak has prompted a string of complaints about racist behaviour targeting members of the Chinese diaspora across Europe, prompting calls to do more to tackle "stigma and discrimination".

A radio DJ broadcast on Feb 6 sparked national outrage in the Netherlands for the playing a satirical song titled Voorkommen is beter dan Chinezen, or Prevention is Better than Chinese, playing on the similar sounding words for "Chinese" and "cure" (genezen, pronounced with a guttural "ch").

The song also had lines that said if people do not eat Chinese food, they will have nothing to worry about.

More than 50,000 people signed a petition denouncing the song as racist, forcing the DJ Lex Gaarthuis to issue an apology to the country's Chinese community. Parliament also passed a motion condemning "offensive and unacceptable" insults to people of Chinese descent.

Meanwhile in Italy, television presenter and musician Francesco Facchinetti intervened to try to stop two young men attacking an older Asian man in Brianza, a small town north of Milan.

"We must apologise to the Chinese community for how we are behaving. How disgusting," he wrote on Facebook.

"I got in the way to try to explain to the two guys that the gentleman was not guilty of spreading the coronavirus. It sounds absurd but I had to make this explanation."

In a video of the incident an onlooker was heard shouting: "He's Filipino, not Chinese", while Facchinetti slapped the assailants, who were throwing rocks.

Italy is by far the hardest-hit European country, with more than 880 confirmed cases and 21 deaths.

European Union and World Health Organisation officials visiting Rome told Europeans to be wary of racism.

"We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation, as well as xenophobic statements, and putting into question the works of public authorities," said EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides.

WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge, said at the same press conference that the public should "avoid stigma and discrimination".

"We know that social discrimination does not work [in response to epidemics]" he said.

Frans-Paul van der Putten, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, said that "some of the underlying problems, in particular the stereotyping of Chinese people, have been around for a long time. What is new is offensive behaviour towards people of Chinese descent in reference to a threatening pandemic."

Ding Chun, director of the Centre for European Studies at Fudan University, said the incidents would affect the perception of Europe among Chinese people.

"Asian people will be afraid of doing travel or business there, which would be very sad. Since we are in a globalised world, it would hurt both sides," he said.

Source: South China Morning Post

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