The discrimination suffered by the Asian community in Europe

Giovanni Dal Prà

Ethnic origin discrimination is still a widespread social issue in Europe. According to the 2019 “Discrimination in the European Union” survey conducted by Eurobarometer, which focuses on people’s perceptions, attitudes, and opinions on discrimination based on ethnic origin, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, religion, and beliefs, 59% of the respondents believe that ethnic origin discrimination is widespread in their country, even though results are different among countries. The Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Sweden seem like to have the highest proportion of respondents thinking that this type of discrimination is rife in their nations. The previous two articles focused on giving a general framework for the discrimination suffered by minority groups in Europe, and how the European Union is legally trying to tackle this issue. Analysing this problem more specifically, the following article discusses the ethnic and racial discrimination that the Asian community has experienced and still lives in Europe.

Over the years, the Asian continent has been the scenario of both migration and immigration flows. In 2020, according to the International Organisation for Migrations, more than 40% of international migrants all over the world were born in Asia and almost half of them are from China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. Even if most Asian countries’ migration happens inside the continent, in 2020 Asian migrants in Europe were 23 million, with an increase of almost 3 million in the previous 5 years. This is a relevant number since Asian immigrants represent almost half of the total population of non-Europeans living in Europe. A considerable Asian descent community is therefore present in Europe. However, Asia is the largest continent in the world by land and population, counting forty-eight States which has different geography, cultures, languages, and religions. Socio-economic and labour conditions are different all over the continent, and this is why it is not easy to analyse the Asian migration phenomenon and its impacts in Europe.

Via Unsplash/ Kareem Hayes

According to the Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey of 2017, the most common discrimination reason suffered by Asian people in the EU in the previous 12 months is “Ethnic origin or immigration background” in many countries. Results depend on the country considered, for example in Greece this is agreed by 51% of the respondents, in Italy by 32%, in Cyprus by 20%, in Poland by 17% and by 16%  in Slovenia. Other reasons for Asian discrimination are skin colour and religion, experienced especially by South Asian people. Results of the survey highlight gender differences mostly in Italy, where more women than men suffered from discrimination on the ground of “ethnic origin”.

Asian people are affected by many stereotypes and biases at different levels, such as in education, in the job market and in tourism. They are perceived as closed communities which do not integrate into European society, businesspeople who exploit workers and people who lack of hygiene. All those prejudices led to more difficulty to get access to good education, lower call-back rates for job interviews, fewer career advancement possibilities and wage disparities compared to the native population. Nevertheless, at the workplace European workers seem to have become more comfortable with the idea of working with an Asian colleague than in past. In the above-mentioned survey conducted by Eurobarometer in 2019, 79% of respondents would feel comfortable with having an Asian immigrant or descendant as a colleague and another 9% would feel moderately comfortable. Despite the “high” positive number coming from these interviews, it could also be agreed that Asian people still suffer from discrimination from that 12% of people.

One of the biggest stereotypes that label Asian people is related to the “model minority myth”, which is a narrative that Asian people are considered generally to be more intelligent and more hard-working than European (or American) society. Research demonstrated that this negatively affects students and workers since Asian kids are expected to be the best students and Asian workers are expected to be very productive, especially in practical tasks. It creates unrealistic expectations about Asians’ abilities, increasing their pressure which might have negative outcomes in personal realization and growth, and social integration. Moreover, these biases create even more segregation between the Asian community and the national one, because they highlight differences creating a biased perception and do not help the actual peaceful and healthful integration of these people in our society.

Via Unsplash/ Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Discrimination against the Asian community increased in 2020 due to covid-19 pandemic according to European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)’s report. Since the first case was found in China, the world population associated all Chinese and Asian people as potential infectors. Generalized social fear in Europe (and not only) for the diffusion of the virus incremented episodes of racism, discrimination, micro-aggressions, and social isolation of Asian people. Moreover, Asian people struggled, even more, to get access to the health care system and housing in those months. Even media, such as the press, and some political speeches to their national and local communities helped increase direct and online discrimination against the Asian community.

In conclusion, discrimination, xenophobia, and racism are still social evils in Europe, and this affects many communities, such as the Asian descendants. Asian migrants to Europe have different personal and educational backgrounds, cultures, languages, religions, and traditions, therefore, it is far complicated to analyse and understand the phenomenon. Therefore, as explained in the first article of this series adopting an intersectional approach is important to have a better understanding of the discrimination affected and experienced by this community. To address racial and ethnic discrimination episodes, proactive efforts are required from policymakers, employers, and society, to promote equal opportunities, go over stereotypes, and foster an inclusive environment where people of Asian descent (and all minorities) can thrive based on their personal abilities and qualifications, rather than their ethnicity. Moreover, by challenging stereotypes, embracing cultural diversity, and implementing inclusive policies, Europe can ensure that Asian people are provided with an equal and supportive experience that allows them to reach their full potential and be able to integrate into European society and contribute to our social and economic development of our region.

Via Unsplash/ Jason Leung

[1] Eurobarometer, Discrimination in the European Union, 2019






[7] Eurobarometer, Discrimination in the European Union, 2019