European police used racial discrimination when enforcing coronavirus lockdowns: Amnesty International

Police forces across Europe were marred by systemic racism when implementing coronavirus lockdown measures, Amnesty International said in a report published on Wednesday.

The non-governmental organization which focuses on human rights said that while enforcing lockdowns, police across 12 European countries "disproportionately targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines and fines."

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The investigation revealed "a disturbing pattern of racial bias which is linked to concerns about institutional racism within police forces, and echoes wider concerns raised in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests."

The death of George Floyd on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis sparked protests around the world and "highlighted the pervasiveness of discriminatory policing and impunity in Europe as well," the report added.

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Poorer areas subjected to greater crackdowns

The enforcement of lockdowns meant poorer communities were more likely to suffer greater crackdowns, according to Amnesty, and these zones often have a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest area of mainland France where the majority of inhabitants are Black or of North African origin, the number of fines handed out for breaching lockdown measures was three times higher than in the rest of the country, Amnesty said. Furthermore, poorer areas were often subjected to longer overnight curfews.

In the UK, police in London registered a 22% rise in stop and searches between March and April of this year. During that same period the proportion of Black people who were searched increased by almost a third.

Roma settlements imposed with militarized quarantines

Meanwhile, discrimination against Roma minorities in Bulgaria and Slovakia was evident during lockdown, the report said. Governments from both countries brought in mandatory quarantines on Roma settlements, for example.

In Slovakia they also tasked the military with enforcing quarantines while Amnesty considers that this option "is not suitable to carry out public health measures."

During mandatory quarantines in Bulgaria, over 50,000 Roma citizens were cut off from the rest of the country and suffered severe food shortages, according to Amnesty's investigations.

The 12 countries covered in the report were Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, Spain and the UK.