A KEY Bradford figure has given his thoughts on the impact that COVID-19 has had on racism and xenophobia, amid Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Javed Bashir - Pakistan-born and Keighley-raised - has said that the outbreak of coronavirus has caused wide-spread "fear", with fear being a "key ingredient" in allowing racism and prejudice to thrive.

He has also argued that the pandemic has "uncovered" a range of "social and political fractures" across the country, causing a rise in racially-charged responses to it.

Mr Bashir is the chief executive of the Bradford-based Professional Muslim Institute - an organisation dedicated to the advancement of Muslims and ethnic minority groups in the United Kingdom.

He is also a safeguarding consultant with Strengthening Faith Institutions, which has helped to support vulnerable people during lockdown by delivering essential items to them, and has also helped out-of-school settings and places of worship with coronavirus risk assessments and health and safety awareness. 

The national Hate Crime Awareness Week commenced yesterday, with Bradford Council, West Yorkshire Police and Bradford Hate Crime Alliance working together to reiterate their commitment to tackling hate crime in all its forms.

Amid Hate Crime Awareness Week, Mr Bashir has argued that COVID-19 has been used as a tool to "reinforce racial discrimination", and despite the virus having the ability to affect everyone - regardless of race or ethnicity - it has "disproportionately" affected ethnic minorities, he says.

"The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented many new challenges and there has been a rise in reports of racially-aggravated hate crime incidents, where certain communities have been targeted", Mr Bashir says.

"Throughout the COVID-19 crisis many individuals, particularly those from Asian backgrounds, are reporting more experiences of racism and xenophobia.

"This week is Hate Crime Awareness Week, which has 'unity is our strength' as its theme, and we must promote unity and stand together to create feelings of mutual trust amongst each other, and eliminate any fears we may have of people from other races, religions, cultures or backgrounds.

"Outbreaks create fear, and fear is a key ingredient for racism and xenophobia to thrive.

"The pandemic has uncovered social and political fractures within communities, creating racialised and discriminatory responses to fear, disproportionately affecting marginalised groups.

"The virus has been associated with China, and as a result discrimination towards Chinese people and people from neighbouring countries has increased. This has included individual acts of violence, as well as collective forms - for example, Chinese and other East Asian people being barred from certain establishments.

"Rather than being an equaliser, given COVID-19's ability to affect anyone, coronavirus policy responses have disproportionately affected marginalised communities - mainly those who are over-represented in lower socio-economic groups, have limited healthcare access, or work in precarious jobs.

"Self-isolation is often not possible due to living in over-crowded housing, which may contribute to a higher risk of viral spread. Some ethnic groups are also at greater risk because of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, for example.

"Acts of discrimination can occur within social, political, and historical contexts. In some cases, certain groups and political leaders have misappropriated the COVID-19 crisis to reinforce racial discrimination, doubling down, for example, on localised lockdowns and conflating public health restrictions with anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"Localised lockdown restrictions need to be carefully considered for longer-term consequences. Policies necessary to control populations on restriction of movement or surveillance might be misappropriated, and marginalise certain groups. Systems must be put in place to prevent adverse outcomes from such policies.

"Health protection relies not only on a well-functioning health system, but also on social inclusion, justice, and solidarity.

"In the absence of these factors, inequalities are magnified and scapegoating persists, with discrimination remaining long after. Division and fear of others will lead to worse outcomes for all.

"During the current battle against COVID-19, I have witnessed many residents and communities - regardless of their races, ethnicities or ancestral countries of origin - caring for each other, supporting the medical and emergency workers, and striving together with the government. 

"Bradford’s British-Asian communities have also been very active in collecting and donating PPE, supplying free hot meals and other supplies to elderly, isolated and vulnerable people. 

"Hopefully we, together, will get out of this mess soon - let’s mark Hate Crime Awareness Week by uniting against and challenging the toxic ideas that lead to the perpetration of hate crimes. We must demonstrate the value of our models of community and belonging."