SYDNEY, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Australia is a country which prides itself on welcoming many people from many different backgrounds. However, as fear and anger over the COVID-19 crisis spread, some Australians have encountered physical and psychological abuse simply because of the way they look.
Realizing the alarming trend, last week police in the State of New South Wales (NSW) launched a campaign called "Stop Public Threats" to help the public understand their legal rights and come forward to report racist crimes when they see them.
It comes after several shocking instances of racial abuse in Australia since the start of the pandemic.
They include a woman in Queensland who was allegedly accused of having COVID-19 and punched several times in the face while in public, and a family household was spray painted with a racist slogan.
The message delivered in the campaign was that according to the law in NSW, anyone who incites violence against others on the grounds of their race or religion may face criminal investigation and up to 3 years in jail, regardless of whether such behavior was a direct physical attack, or if it occurred in private, public, or even on social media.
"Racial abuse and racial vilification in all their ugly forms are never acceptable and go against everything we stand for in NSW," NSW acting minister for multiculturalism Geoff Lee said last week.
"No member of our community should ever feel attacked due to their cultural or religious background."
Most people who Xinhua spoke to said that Australians were by and large friendly and accepting, and in no way blamed any group for COVID-19. However, some did report feeling concerned that their race could make them a target for hatred.
Min Jung Pi, who emigrated from South Korea to Australia told Xinhua that particularly early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt that the mood towards Asian people had become more suspicious, bordering on hostile.
"I felt like when there was a spare seat on the bus next to me, people didn't sit down. It's not direct discrimination, because they didn't say or do anything to me, but it made me feel like I was being bullied," Pi said.
"I felt like I was targeted because I am Asian, it made me feel very uncomfortable."
Although the police stand for victims, but when they are absent at the time and places of racial incidents there is really not much they can do, she added.
Justin Chan, who has owned a business in Sydney's Chinatown for 25 years, said that he too had noticed a difference in how he and his family were treated during the pandemic, but that reporting any kind of racial prejudice was too time-consuming and would yield no real result.
Victorian Multicultural Commission chair Vivienne Nguyen told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the broader community's lack of understanding regarding racial vilification laws in Australia made them more difficult to enforce, and she feared that some crimes were going unreported.
"The lack of understanding and lack of awareness of the legislation means that we find ourselves in a situation ... now with under-reporting," she said.
A spokesperson from NSW Department of Communities and Justice told Xinhua that to date there had been no prosecutions made under Section 93Z of the Crimes Act, which deals specifically with race based incidents.
State authorities have been upfront in acknowledging a lack of understanding about the legal options available to victims of racism and a widely held belief that the process of reporting is considered daunting and unclear.
NSW's Minister for counter terrorism Anthony Roberts said the campaign reinforces the need to stand firm as a community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our response to the pandemic and the worst bushfire season on record in NSW earlier this year demonstrates our community's incredible resilience," Roberts said.
"There is a small number of individuals with extreme and violent views who want to divide us. We need to reject this behaviour and protect the rights of all NSW residents."