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News > World

Europe's Minorities Face Bias in COVID-19 Policing: Report

  • Police in Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris, stop residents during lockdown on April 2.

    Police in Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris, stop residents during lockdown on April 2. | Photo: AFP

Published 24 June 2020

An Amnesty International report conclude that racial bias has been evident in the monitoring of COVID-19 blockades in Europe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to greater “marginalization, stigmatization, and violence” of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, a report by Amnesty International revealed Wednesday.

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The report called 'Policing the Pandemic: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of COVID-19 Measures in Europe', refers to several systematic cases of abuse committed against these populations, citing some shocking examples such as the “disinfecting” of Roma communities by low-flying planes or the high number of fines handed to minority groups.

The various events described in the report conclude that racial bias has been evident in the monitoring of COVID-19 blockades in Europe, which also adds to the long-standing concerns aired by the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks in various parts of the world.

An increase in the stopping and searching of black people in London –from 7.2 out of 1,000 in March to 9.3 out of 1,000 in April– is referenced in the report, along with the lengthy curfews imposed specifically in areas in France where Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities live.

In the department of Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris, home to a high proportion of black residents, the number of police checks was more than double the national average. The number of fines issued was also three times higher than in the rest of the country, despite respect for lockdown measures being comparable with other regions in France.

Amnesty said it had verified 15 videos of unlawful use of force or racist and homophobic insults by law enforcement officials from March 18 to April 26, 2020, in 15 French cities, six of these involved enforcement of lockdown rules.

Between March and May 2020, Amnesty also documented cases of militarised quarantines of 10 Roma settlements in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

In fact, Roma settlements have been totally violated in these countries, with coercive measures ranging from violent police operations to hate speech and discrimination sent from governments. 

The report also finds that asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants in camps and shared accommodation were targeted with quarantines in Germany, Greece, Cyprus, and Serbia.

Following the excuse of a state of emergency in Serbia, for example, the authorities imposed a regime that targeted government-operated centers housing asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. It placed them under a 24-hour mandatory quarantine and deployed the military to monitor the curfew.

Meanwhile, Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a German MEP who made headlines after highlighting her experience of abuse at the hands of police officers in Brussels on the day the European parliament debated anti-racism protests, called for countries other than the U.K. to collect disaggregated data on the ethnicity of those subjected to law enforcement.

“The brutal killing of George Floyd once again brought the reality of police brutality in the spotlight. We must take the momentum of this moment to push for concrete change,” she said.

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