Unia takes a stand for getting along together, even in times of corona crisis

12 November 2020
Area of action: SocietyAll areas of action
Grounds of discrimination: All grounds of discrimination

The corona crisis that is gripping our country has fuelled mutual distrust among citizens. “We notice that there is a strong tendency to look for culprits or scapegoats”, says Els Keytsman, director of Unia. “This is a trend that we must counteract. Nobody benefits from it. We would do much better to support the countless forms of solidarity created by the pandemic. The corona crisis is certainly not over yet. We have to learn to live with this virus without destroying the solidarity in our society.”  

Unia is now publishing a report on the impact of this health crisis on human rights. The report is based, among other things, on the many reports received by Unia in recent months.  

Climate of fear 

“It is an unprecedented crisis”, says Keytsman. “This has brought out the best in some of us. 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 persons with Asian roots, the young, the elderly, people of foreign origin in general, the inhabitants of the asylum centre in Koksijde, you name it. The public has a strong desire for security, which can sometimes undermine solidarity among individuals.”

Reports under scrutiny

In total, Unia analysed almost 1,850 reports that came in during the first months of the corona crisis. “Due to the corona crisis, Unia registered 30% more reports between February 1, 2020 and August 19, 2020, indicating that the measures against corona caused dissatisfaction. Many people realised that Unia could help them defend their rights or articulate their concerns.”

At the beginning of the corona crisis, measures were taken at a rapid pace. The reports to Unia show that vulnerable groups were often overlooked. “We published an extensive report in June on the dramatic impact on people with disabilities. But others also had a difficult time, for example families did not always have the digital equipment to allow their children to receive education remotely. People over 65 were advised not to see their grandchildren anymore. And couples with partners living in another country remained separated for a long time.” Reporters also complained that the measures too often assumed a “heteronormative family” and did not take into account other forms of cohabitation. For example, a gay couple was told by the police to keep their distance while walking, or single parents were not allowed to enter shops with their child.  

Unia therefore recommends that the authorities ensure that the corona measures are really necessary and proportional, and that they do not have a negative impact on the most vulnerable groups. “The government is increasingly inclined to take general drastic measures that weigh more heavily on some than on others. There needs to be a different approach.”   

According to Unia, it is essential that all persons and public authorities combat all forms of stigmatisation or discrimination. “In addition, we ask police forces and private security services to carry out checks sparingly, and to ensure that they are performed in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner. There is no need to create even greater polarisation in a society that is already struggling enough.”