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European police have shown a “disturbing pattern of racial prejudice” in attempts to enforce the rules of confinement under Covid-19 by applying disproportionate violence to ethnic and marginalised minorities, Amnesty International reported on Wednesday.
Police operations have had a disproportionate impact on poorer areas, which tend to have a higher proportion of residents of minority ethnic groups, the organization said in a report called “Policing the Pandemic” and which was released Wednesday.
According to Amnesty International, the document, which covers 12 countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Spain, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, the United Kingdom and Romania), exposes “a disturbing pattern of racial prejudice, which is linked to concerns about institutional racism within the security forces and other broader issues raised in recent protests by the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“Police violence and concerns about institutional racism are not new, but the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforcement of confinement rules demonstrate how prevalent they are,” said Amnesty International Western Europe researcher Marco Perolini. “The triple threats of discrimination, illegal use of force and police impunity must be tackled urgently in Europe,” he said.
As an example, the humanitarian organization points to the case of Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest area in mainland France, where most of the inhabitants are black or of North African origin. In this area, “the number of fines for violating confinement was three times higher than the rest of the country, although local authorities said compliance with the rules was similar,” the report said, adding that Nice, a French neighborhood predominantly of the working class and with ethnic minorities, “was subjected to longer curfews compared to what was happening in the rest of the city.”
London police also recorded a 22% increase in control operations between March and April, with the proportion of blacks searched increasing by almost a third during that period.
According to the report, Amnesty International’s Evidence Laboratory has observed 34 videos from across Europe showing police using unnecessary and illegal force.
In one of the videos collected by the humanitarian organization, after it was published online on March 29, two police officers are seen, according to Amnesty International, stopping a young descendant of North Africa on the streets of Bilbao, Spain. Although the young man posed no apparent threat, a policeman violently pushed him and hit him with a baton, while two others held him against the wall with their hands behind his back. At that point, the young man’s mother appeared and told the police that her son suffered from mental health problems, but the officers beat the woman and knocked her down, keeping her on the ground. Some of the neighbors who were filming the scene were fined for “unauthorized collection of images of law enforcement officers.”
Further east, discrimination began with government decisions when mandatory quarantines were imposed on all Roma camps in Bulgaria and Slovakia, the humanitarian organization stressed. In the case of Slovakia, the army was mobilized to comply with this order, which Amnesty International considers a disproportionate measure. In Bulgaria, mandatory quarantines have led to more than 50,000 Roma being isolated from the rest of the country, with the situation “leading to food shortages”. In this country, burgas city authorities even used drones with thermal sensors to remotely measure residents’ temperature and monitor their movements.
In the case of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in shared camps and accommodation, people have also been subjected, according to Amnesty International, to selective quarantines, as was the case in countries such as Germany, Cyprus and Serbia, as well as “forced evictions” in France and Greece.
In Serbia, the authorities imposed a special regime that selectively targeted refugee, migrant and asylum seeker centers, placing them “under a mandatory 24-hour quarantine and mobilizing the military to monitor the curfew,” the organization said.
“The state must stop imposing discriminatory quarantines and forcibly expel Roma, refugees and migrants from camps. Instead, they should safeguard the right of these people to have housing and health care,” said Amnesty International’s European Union researcher Barbora Cernusáková.
Another discrimination pointed out by Amnesty International was made to the homeless.
In Italy, the non-governmental organisation Avvocato di Strada has found at least 17 cases in which homeless people have been fined for failing to comply with isolation and movement restriction measures, a situation that has also occurred in France, Spain and the United Kingdom.