Covid racism fuels rise in hate crimes against East and South East Asians

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The true scale of hate crimes against East and South East Asians in the UK has been revealed after a study shared exclusively with ITV News found reported attacks have risen by nearly 50% in just two years.

The study by End Violence and Racism Against East and Southeast Asian Communities (EVR) shows 2,212 incidents were reported in 2020 compared to 1,492 in 2018. Many attribute the rise to Chinese people being blamed for the pandemic.

More than half of UK police forces - 60% - that responded to Freedom of Information requests reported an increase in east and south east Asian hate crime last year.

Research engineer Yuanzhao Zhang was shopping near his home in Cambridge last month when he was attacked in a supermarket by a gang who hurled racial slurs at him. He was beaten so badly - his face needed reconstruction surgery.

The 26 year old is slowly recovering from his physical injuries - but the mental scars will take longer to heal.

Yuanzhao was attacked in a supermarket in September Credit: ITV News Anglia

The tech worker moved from London to Cambridge two years ago as he missed the city where he had studied his postgraduate degree and where he called home.

Mr Zhang claims there have been other recent incidents of harassment and attacks in Cambridge against east and south east Asians, some of them were his Chinese friends.

Despite what happened to him - Cambridge is still the city he wants to call home.

He said: “I feel safe and peaceful and, also, I have a lot of friends here in Cambridge, but after the incident I would be more vigilant when I walk around Cambridge, but I think the overall expression for Cambridge is, for the large part, unchanged, it’s still a lovely town in my mind.”

Yuanzhao told ITV News Anglia that he feels more 'vulnerable' now Credit: UGC

He believes east and south east Asian hate has been an issue but the pandemic has made things worse.

He said: "The fact that Covid hit China and Asia first doesn't mean we should be discriminated, because next time it could happen in Europe."

Three teenage boys have been arrested in connection with a series of racially aggravated crimes in Cambridge, which took place in August and September. The crimes include racial assault, robbery, theft and assault causing grievous bodily harm, Cambridgeshire Police said.

At the time the area Commander for the south of Cambridge, Superintendent Adam Gallop, said: “The arrests... follow an extensive and thorough investigation into a series of disgraceful racially motivated crime towards members of our community.... We hope these arrests send a clear message that these crimes will not be tolerated in our county.”

How has east and south east Asian hate crime risen in recent years?

Data compiled by End Violence and Racism Against East and Southeast Asian Communities (EVR) reveals hate crime against east and south east Asians have been rising year on year since 2018. That’s despite the fact that many incidents go unreported.

The biggest increase was between 2019 and 2020, amid the start of the pandemic. There was a 27% increase as crimes rose from 1,742 to 2,212.

Between 2018 to 2019, the rise was 17%.

Credit: End Violence and Racism against East and Southeast Asian Communities

Of 46 police forces in the UK, 30 responded to FOI requests.

Types of hate crimes reported include assault, robbery, stalking and harassment, sexual assault, and threats to kill.

From January 2019 to January 2020 hate crimes were reported to have increased in 19 out of 30 (over 60%) of institutions from which data was provided. This includes:

  • 192% increase from 12 to 35 in Essex from 2019 to 2020

  • 80% increase from 323 to 581 in Metropolitan Police from 2019 to 2020

  • 91% increase from 11 to 21 in Hertfordshire from 2019 to 2020

A spokesperson for EVR said about the rise in hate crimes between 2019 and 2020: "This will not surprise anyone who has been paying attention."

But they warned the data is "incomplete and almost certainly understate" the levels of hate crimes against east and south east Asians.

Calling on the government and police to address hate crimes against east and south east Asians, they said there needs to be better data recording to understand the problem, more support for communities and better education of east and south east Asian histories.

Luton North MP Sarah Owen says she has been subject to racist abuse on the street Credit: ITV News

Sarah Owen, MP for Luton North, said the figures show the "bare minimum" of what is actually happening.

As an MP with Chinese heritage and who spoke out on the issue of east and south east Asian racism in Parliament, she has been flooded with hundreds of emails from people writing about the racism that they faced, regardless of whether they lived in her constituency.

She said: "When I raised it in Parliament, I wasn't prepared for the reaction afterwards, if I'm perfectly honest, the huge number of people that got in touch to say how much it meant to them."

She continued: "And there were people that cried speaking to me about how much that debate meant to them because they had experienced racism throughout their life, particularly when they were children as well, and how much it meant to be able to have representation in Parliament on this issue."

Sarah Owen MP shows ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies some of the emails she has received from people about east and south east Asian racism. Some of the complainants do not even live in her constituency

Even the MP herself has been the target racism during the pandemic.

While Ms Owen receives abusive online messages on a day-to-day basis, she said one incident that has stuck with her happened when was walking out of Westminster.

She said: "This woman just pointed at me and shouted, 'Watch out, Corona's about,' and at first, I thought, is that aimed at me? And then I could see her actually pointing at me and just like laughing and it hurt."

"And since then, people have asked why I didn't report it, and I just thought, because it's not going to go anywhere. I wasn't convinced that it would be taken seriously and that it would be marked down as actually a racist attack."

The MP said part of reason for "huge levels of under-reporting" is due to a lack of trust with authorities and a tendency in older generations to keep quiet and avoid conflict. She called on the government to take the issue seriously.

A Home Office spokesperson said the government is "committed to tackling hate crime" and its Hate Crime Action plan has had a positive impact.

In a statement a Home Office spokesperson said:“Hate crime is utterly unacceptable and individuals who commit these crimes should rightly face the full force of the law.The Government is committed to tackling hate crime and our Hate Crime Action plan has helped improve the police response to, and public awareness of, all forms of hate crime.Our approach is working, with the Crime Survey for England and Wales showing a long-term decline in hate crime. Increases in police recorded hate crime is driven by improvements in crime recording and a better indication of what constitutes a hate crime.”