East Asians are discriminated against

"It breaks my heart that, as a Swiss woman, I am insulted because of my Asian appearance" - how people experience discrimination in times of the coronavirus

The number of cases of coronavirus is increasing. As a result, there are also increasing reports of hostility towards people of Asian background in Switzerland and Germany. Those affected do not have to put up with everything.

Verena M. * spends a carefree morning with her younger sister skiing on Lenzerheide. They want to have lunch together in a restaurant. But already in the entrance area they realize that they are obviously not welcome. “Ten young men at a table stared at us suspiciously. One of them turned away, covered his face and started to cough, »says Verena on the phone. The other men imitate the gesture. Then everyone laughs. "We felt very uncomfortable and left the restaurant to look for a seat outside," says Verena.

Verena's family lives in St. Gallen. Verena is 23 years old and Swiss with Chinese and Vietnamese roots. Even during a train ride with her mother and other relatives, Verena already experienced insulting behavior: Two younger men who had sat across from them repeatedly uttered sayings such as “Ching Chang Chong, Coronavirus” and laughed. "I found that very discriminatory." Her mother almost reported the incident to the train controller. "When I got out of the car, I told the two men that they should first learn Chinese properly before they were so derogatory."

"People are looking for scapegoats"

With the global spread of the coronavirus, which originated in China, panic and irrational behavior are also spreading. In the past few weeks, people with an Asian background have complained of xenophobic and racist behavior on the social platforms using the hashtag #iamnotavirus. Those affected report how they are insulted and even attacked on the street. They find understanding and solidarity in social networks. Many users oppose xenophobia and racism. Such reports are also increasing in Switzerland and Germany - although the virus is spreading here from Italy.

For Helmut Reichen, board member of Gesellschaft Schweiz-China, such defamatory words and gestures fit into the widespread rejecting and negative attitude towards everything that has its origin in China. "How would large circles of our public say if the coronavirus had its origin in the West?" He asks.

Swiss expert groups on racism are controversially discussing the term "corona racism". Martin Rauh, responsible for the Zurich Contact Point for Racism (Züras), explains the phenomenon as follows: “Especially in times of social crisis, scapegoats are searched for. This often affects ethnic minorities. " As a result, it is difficult to judge when a certain reaction takes place as self-protection against infection, and when it is actually racist behavior. Because racial discrimination is often subtle. What counts is the subjective perception of those affected: the effect, not the intention.

Sang-Min Do is holding a piece of paper on his Instagram profile that says “I'm not a virus”. He, too, recently had negative experiences due to his appearance. His parents are from Korea. On the way to the subway in his native Hamburg, he was with six friends who also had an Asian background. Two young men told them "Corona, Corona!" called after and filmed the whole thing on his cell phone, he says on the phone.

The friends then confronted the men. “I noticed that they were very unapologetic and aggressive. You couldn't really talk to them sensibly, "says Do. When asked why he was behaving like that, one man replied:" I think it's funny, and quite honestly, those over there deserve to die, if which all bats eat. " Do and his friends were stunned and "extremely angry" because of the statement. The perpetrators themselves had a migration background. With their behavior, these people would attract the hatred of others and a "chain of hatred" emerged, says Do.

Racism criminal norm only protects against massive attacks

Raising awareness of the discrimination on social networks is one way in which those affected can help each other. There is also legal recourse. In Germany, the General Equal Treatment Act has prohibited discriminatory acts based on racist patterns for over 12 years. For twenty years, the racism criminal norm in Switzerland has protected people and groups of people from racial discrimination, degradation and agitation based on their affiliation to a certain “race”, ethnic group or religion. But what is punishable is assessed differently depending on the individual case. "It has to be very massive attacks for it to fall under racial discrimination," explains criminal law professor Daniel Jositsch.

The penal norm presupposes certain conditions: The racist acts and statements must take place in public. In addition, the people concerned must be treated as inferior beings and their human dignity must be degraded. Only then does the law take effect.

A large part of the hostility towards people of Asian background in Switzerland and Germany in times of the coronavirus should not fall under the corresponding anti-racism laws. Nevertheless, they are hurtful - as the example of Frank Karinda from Stuttgart shows.

Karinda played with his son in front of the entrance to a clinic near Stuttgart while his Korean wife was sitting in the waiting room. A group of older men looked over at them, Karinda says on the phone. One of them said: "It has a corona impact." At first Karinda was irritated. Then he shot back. "Otherwise everything is clear?" He asked in the direction of the men. They ignored him. Only later did it occur to him that he could have accused the man of a "Nazi attack". Karinda says he wasn't angry. "My wife was more shocked."

There are other ways in which those affected can defend themselves. The police stations in Switzerland encourage those affected to report such cases as quickly as possible. “That's our job,” explains a spokesman for the Zug canton police. "The police will of course follow up on the reported cases," affirmed in Bern. A police spokesman also confirmed in the canton of Aargau: "Of course we take these cases seriously."

Depending on the circumstances, the public prosecutor's office will clarify whether there has been a violation of the racism criminal norm. Other penal norms could also be affected: defamation, defamation, abuse, defamation. The report can be made against unknown persons, but according to the Aargau police spokesman, it makes more sense if the perpetrator is known. "At the end of the investigation, the public prosecutor, who is responsible for the criminal investigation, decides whether there is enough evidence and evidence to allow criminal proceedings to continue," writes a spokesman for the Lucerne canton police.

Various cantons and organizations operate advice centers in the field of racist discrimination. The Zurich Contact Point for Racism has been in Zurich since summer 2019 (Züras). "If someone feels attacked or discriminated against, he or she can seek advice," says Rauh. Possible help is coaching, counseling or mediation. If necessary, they will be referred to a suitable specialist office, for example for legal advice or therapy. The advice center had not received any inquiries in connection with "Corona racism" by Friday.

Facts as an antidote

Against panic, it helps to become aware of the known facts about the corona virus: In Switzerland and Germany, the virus is slowly spreading from Italy. The number of those healed already exceeds that of those infected worldwide. Experts estimate the death rate to be less than one percent, and most sufferers have mild symptoms. The claim that Asians in Europe are being discriminated against because of fear of infection has no factual basis.

Verena from St. Gallen says: "It breaks my heart that I experience such racist behavior in the country where I was born and grew up and always felt like a local because of my Asian appearance." Her family is very disappointed that, although she has lived here for many years, they feel uncomfortable. Karinda from Stuttgart says he has got used to being treated differently because of his foreign appearance. His father is from China, his mother from Germany. Bouncers have often denied him access to a discotheque or the police have checked his personal details. Do from Hamburg gains something positive from the whole debate. So far, discrimination against Asians has been a marginal issue. "That is why it is good that we are now talking about it publicly."

* Name changed.