More than 60 senior figures from the east and southeast Asian British community have signed a letter calling on the Home Secretary to announce an independent inquiry following a rise in hate crimes towards the community since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Official figures show there has been a three-fold increase in hate crimes since the pandemic started, and the letter has called on Priti Patel to publicly outline a zero-tolerance policy on racism.
Signatories and supporters of the letter include comedian Phil Wang, former Chair of the Conservative Party Baroness Warsi and poet, novelist and playwright Benjamin Zephaniah.
The letter, which was coordinated by the End the Virus of Racism group, has also been supported by politicians from the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, and has been signed by nurses, care workers and community representatives among others.
It says: “The UK has a population of over 850,000 people in this community, and we play a huge role in contributing towards our country’s economy, life, and culture.
“Members of our community that serve the NHS and care-homes are disproportionately dying on the frontline. And it has been uncovered that we are also being racially abused. At this time of crisis, we should all stand by each other.”
Since the start of the pandemic there has been increased levels of hate crimes directed towards the east and southeast Asian community in Britain.
Benjamin Zephaniah told ITV News: "I was horrified by recent attacks on people of east and south east Asian heritage in London, Birmingham, and other towns and cities around the country. In times like these we need to pull together, and we should not allow racists and people who seek to blame innocent people for the condition we find ourselves in, to divide us."
Sarah Owen MP, the first Labour MP of east Asian descent and the first female MP of Chinese descent, has seen an increase in the racist abuse online, including messages of “it’s your fault because you eat bats” since the pandemic started.
She has signed the letter and told ITV News the government “urgently needs to call a stop to coronavirus related racism.”
“Racism against Chinese and east Asians is not new, Covid-19 has just shone a light on what was sadly already there and policy makers need to better engage with communities to fully understand the cause and possible solutions,” she added.
Phebe Lee, a 60-year-old east Asian woman, said she felt "helpless" when she was racially abused while on the bus on her way home in London.
“'Coronavirus' was shouted at me at least three times by one girl in the group of four in front of the whole full upper deck as they were walking downstairs to get off the bus.
"During the 10-minute bus journey, they were swearing at me and even threatened to punch me."
The Home Office has engaged at an early stage with southeast and east Asian communities in England to understand the issues they are facing and to provide support.
Work is also currently ongoing with the National Police Chief’s Council to ensure that all police forces are providing reassurance to communities that are affected by hate crimes across the country.
In response to the letter Home Secretary, Priti Patel said: “Hate crime has absolutely no place in our society and I’m in continued conversations with the police and partners across government to ensure these criminals face justice.”