Racism against Asians in Belgium is ‘an underestimated problem’
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Racism against Asians in Belgium is ‘an underestimated problem’

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As the US grapples with the fallout of a mass shooting in which eight people were killed, six of them Asian women, Belgium faces its own issues with racism against people of Asian descent in the country.

The coronavirus has had an impact on the prevalence of racism against people with Asian roots, according to the director of Unia (Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities).

Unia received a record number of complaints relating to racism in 2020, 49% more than in 2019. In total the centre received 3,684 complaints, relating to 2,081 individual events. That is slightly more than ten a day on average, and 49% more than the previous year.

But racism against Asian people in particular had a different sort of sinister nature, one related directly to the global pandemic. Because of the coronavirus’ origins in China, people of Asian descent found themselves victims of harassment and discrimination.

“The corona crisis had an impact on the racism against people with Asian roots,” Director Els Keytsman told De Standaard simply.

“We received a report of a man who took the bus with his son and was shouted at,” Keytsman said. Another person with Asian roots was denied a hotel room. Citing fear of the coronavirus, the staff would not let any Asians stay the night.

“Racism against Asian Belgians is an underestimated problem,” said Keytsman. “A few years ago, a politician (Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever) said that Asian Belgians do not complain about racism. However, our research shows that they also have to deal with discrimination in different layers of society.”

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Unia does not keep exact figures about the origin of people who report racism to the Equal Opportunities Centre.

“We know that racism is structural. It is not only about the number of reports we receive,” said Keytsman. “Ethnic inequality is still rampant in various layers of society.”

Keytsman says the fight against racism must be waged in different areas, and that the Black Lives Matter movement has sharpened awareness of racism overall.

“More people are saying that racism is not okay. People are more willing to go to Unia or the police,” Keytsman said. “Still, a structural action plan is urgently needed. Awareness alone will not suffice. It will take another sixty years before racial inequality in society is reduced.”

Belgium’s anti-racism law is 40 years old.

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times