Police chiefs have warned that the far right is using coronavirus as an excuse to attack east and south-east Asians as new figures show hate crime against them is rising.
Attacks on people classified by the Metropolitan Police as “oriental” have risen a third since the lockdown was eased in May, with figures significantly higher than previous years.
A group of British-based east and south-east Asian academics and human rights advocates are urging the UK government to condemn the growing hate crime and give extra protection to targeted communities.
The group, called End the Virus of Racism (EVR), said that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) acknowledged that intelligence reports confirmed the UK’s far right was using coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, as a reason to attack east and south-east Asians.
The NPCC lead officer for hate crime, deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton, said they were taking reports of hate crimes against the Chinese and south-east Asian communities very seriously.
As east and south-east Asians we’ve been used to an underlying racism all our lives, but this is bringing it to the fore
Lu Gram, University College London
Hamilton added: “No one is responsible for the outbreak of coronavirus and everyone has a right to be protected from targeted abuse. We will continue to monitor any trends that arise.”
Lu Gram, a global health researcher at University College London, added that Donald Trump’s repeated use of the phrase “China virus” when referring to Covid-19 was also to blame for spreading hate. “It feels like the atmosphere after 9/11 towards Muslims, when any Muslim on the street was seen as a potential terrorist. Now it’s any Chinese is a member of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], a potential existential threat to civilisation.”
New figures show that attacks against “orientals” recorded by the Met stood at 21 in January, rose steeply as the pandemic spread, fell during the lockdown and then, since the easing in May of restrictions, has started to steadily rise, reaching 50 incidents in June and 60 last month.
The data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also show that attacks against individuals identified as Asian have risen sharply since the easing of lockdown restrictions, prompting fears that they will accelerate in the event of a second wave. The figures show there were 261 hate crimes against Asians in April, rising to 323 in May, 395 in June and 381 in July.
Gram added that there was significant under-reporting of hate crime to the police in the east and south-east Asian communities due to distrust, and that EVR was seeking to raise funds to set up a third-party reporting system as an alternative.
“As east and south-east Asians we’ve been used to an underlying racism in society all our lives, but this is just bringing it to the fore. People now have an excuse to display it,” said Gram, who was born in China.
The 35-year-old, who had has lived in the UK since he was 18, added that already one group member had left London this year because they were fed up with street harassment prompted by the pandemic.
Gram has also been targeted, with someone accusing him of “doing this to us” while others have been screaming at him in the street to wear a mask.
He added: “We need government leadership on this. Boris Johnson or [home secretary] Priti Patel to unambiguously support the east and south-east Asian communities.”
Children, according to EVR, are particularly vulnerable with the group receiving numerous reports of children being bullied at school for eating “bat-soup and spreading coronavirus”.
It is also backing a campaign for the government and media to stop using images depicting Asians wearing masks when covering Covid-19, arguing it perpetuates the idea that all east and south east Asians are coronavirus carriers.