While Tran Hong Yen was waiting for a train in Munster, Germany last year, two white men passed by and said in German, “Go back to China and take the virus back with you.”
The 21-year-old Vietnamese student said: “I was stunned and confused. After I got home, the verbal attack was still stuck in my head and made me feel very angry. It looked like they had no one to vent their anger on and we were easy targets.”
She said the peaceful city, where she has studied for over 18 months, has changed a lot since the Covid-19 outbreak began. There are no more greetings or lifts to school from “kind” strangers.
She is now afraid to go outside.
Tran Hong Yen, a Vietnamese student in Munster, Germany. Photo courtesy of Yen.
Yen said one of her Asian friends had to see a psychiatrist for counseling after frequently facing discrimination and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Four years ago Long, a Vietnamese student in Washington, D.C., was on his way home from his part-time job when he was stopped by a young White man who begged for some change. Long politely refused and in return faced a torrent of abuse of Asians.
Two months later he happened to bump into the same person, but this time he was with a Black friend.
He said: “They followed and threatened me, pretended to have guns in their pockets and took my money. I was punched, knocked to the ground, kicked, and racially abused,” Long recalled about the incident that happened four years ago.
He was scared but tried to fight back.
“It affected me mentally for a while. I worry the same thing could happen again, especially during winter when it gets dark early and I often travel alone by bus. Will things get even worse this time?”
Long and Yen are but two of the myriad Asian victims of bigotry, racism and xenophobia in western countries, and these have only worsened following the Covid outbreak.
In Vancouver, Canada, the number of hate crimes reported against Asians increased by 717 percent last year.
But many countries like France, Germany and Belgium do not collect demographic data based on race, making it difficult to accurately understand the scale of the problem.
Data from the London Metropolitan Police shows there were more than 200 attacks on East Asians between June and September 2020, a 96 percent increase year-on-year.
In a 2019 report, the Spanish government said 2.9 percent of Asian citizens were victims of racism.
In France, campaigners say the global pandemic has worsened the lives of Asian communities. In Paris alone, attacks on or insults against Asians happen every two days.
In the U.S., social advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it received nearly 3,000 reports of attacks targeting Asian Americans between March and December 2020.
President Joe Biden has said attacks against Asians “skyrocketed” and called on the American people to resist “the rise of xenophobia.”
There is more and more research showing that being stigmatized is affecting the mental health of Asians in the west. The U.S.’s 2018 National Health Interview Survey found that nearly 44 percent of Asian Americans had experienced depression and sought out a psychiatrist.
People from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An Asian-American boy at a ‘Kids vs. Racism’ rally against anti-Asian hate crimes at Hing Hay Park in the Chinatown-International District of Seattle, Washington, the U.S. on March 20. Photo by Reuters/Lindsey Wasson.
The American Psychological Association said victims of hostile and racist behavior often experience stress, depression, anxiety, anger, and lack of confidence after trauma. According to experts, it also exposes the deficiencies in the healthcare system for Asians studying and working abroad.
In the U.S., Asian Pacific Islander communities have less access to mental health services than any other ethnic group. International student health insurance usually does not cover the cost of psychological examination. Language barriers and the lack of understanding of Asian history and culture make it difficult for professionals to counsel their clients.
Mandy Diec, director of California at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), said: “This is not new, but it does cause a lot of damage. The biggest problem is that we are living with a healthcare system that does not meet the needs of the community.”
A survey by SEARAC of the Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Chinese communities in the U.S. found that 29 percent of respondents encountered problems due to insufficient understanding of mental health services.
For Long, the incident four years ago does not affect his current life too much but he is worried about the growing wave hatred toward Asians, especially following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Yen said many of her Asian friends are often hesitant about talking about discrimination and trauma.
“I don’t understand why people feel so embarrassed. We are not at fault. Everyone should raise awareness about the issue of racism and discrimination against Asians. Don’t wait until you or relatives experience it to speak up.”