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Reports of racism up by 55% over last five years
Federal equal rights agency Unia received 11% more complaints of racism in 2018 than the year before. The agency released the figures today in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
While 11% is significant enough, the number of complaints filed with the agency has risen by 55% over a five-year period. It is not clear if the number of incidents are on the rise or if more people are going to Unia to report the incidents, or both.
In 2017, the agency received 782 formal complaints of racism, from discrimination to verbal and physical assaults. In 2018, that number had risen to 866.
“There is no anti-racism policy plan that cuts across all governmental levels,” said Unia director Els Keytsman. “That should change.”
The most incidents were related to online harassment, which was good for 25% of complaints. But a very close second at 24% was discrimination in the procurement of goods and services, such as in shops, gyms and when trying to rent properties. “Customers who can’t buy a computer because they don’t have Belgian nationality or who can’t rent an apartment because of the colour of their skin,” said Keytsman.
‘Hit and cursed’
While most of the complaints have to do with discrimination, others much more aggressive. “One woman with African roots was hit and cursed at in a club,” said Keytsman. “One was a trash collector who was suddenly the victim of a racist tirade. In 2017, we had 84 such cases. Last year there were 95.”
While many of the cases were handled outside of the legal system, Unia took plaintiffs to court 16 times last year. “This was the case when violence was involved or if our requests to discuss the situation were openly ignored.”
Kris Peeters (CD&V), acting minister of equal opportunities, launched an online campaign today “to show that racism leads nowhere,” he said. “Racism hurts people and holds back talent in our society. It’s pointless.”
He also announced subsidies of up to €30,000 to organisations that launch projects that fight racism. And he said that the next federal government should work on a cross-governmental anti-racism policy.
Unia has been asking for that for 18 years. “Racism is everywhere, so a campaign around it is a good idea,” said Keytsman. “But we should not overlook the fact that we sorely need a national action plan. The victims of racism have been waiting since 2001 for that, and we want to see it in the next government accord.”
A Stop Racism march is planned in Brussels this Sunday, 24 March
Photo: Nadia Bormotova/Getty Images