Pandemic fuelling public distrust and discrimination, Unia says


The equal opportunities group says suspicion has grown between different groups in society

‘Unprecedented crisis’

According to equal opportunities group Unia, the corona crisis has fuelled public distrust, saying that the current climate has led to a strong tendency to identify culprits or scapegoats. “People look suspiciously at people with Asian roots, young people, the elderly and people of foreign origin in general,” says Els Keytsman, director of Unia.

Between 1 February and 19 August, Unia received 6,279 complaints, 32% more than in the same period last year. Of these reports, 1,846 (29.4%) are directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports increased after the announcement on 9 March that restrictions related to the pandemic were coming, along with the introduction of the term “social distancing”.

“This is an unprecedented crisis,” says Keytsman. “This has made some of us show the best of ourselves. But the fear has also prompted some to point the finger at others and to look suspiciously, for no apparent reason or tangible evidence, at people with Asian roots, young people, the elderly, and people of foreign origin in general. Security and safety have been put into the hands of citizens, and that sometimes undermines solidarity among individuals.”

At the beginning of the crisis, measures came in at a rapid pace and Unia reports that vulnerable groups were often lost in the rush. Unia published a comprehensive report on the impact of the restrictions and confinement on people with disabilities in June.

Others also struggled: families didn’t always have the digital equipment to get their children to take part in distance learning. “And over-65s were advised not to see their grandchildren again,” Keytsman said. “Couples whose partners live in another country also remained separated for a long time.”

Photo: Belga/Jasper Jacobs