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The COVID-19 Blame Game Threatens Us All

Despite the claims of nationalist politicians, refugees and forced migrants were not the source of COVID-19’s spread. Blaming these vulnerable groups damns them twice – and exposes everyone to even greater risks.

NEW YORK – As the new coronavirus, COVID-19, nears pandemic status, a second scourge has followed in its path: a virulent racism that scapegoats refugees, asylum seekers, and foreigners more generally as the cause of the outbreak. This is not only false and cruel, but also dangerous. Politicizing the crisis and stigmatizing whole populations risks turning fiction into fact by stoking fear and driving the disease underground, making it more difficult to manage. Have we forgotten the central lesson of the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini was among the first to target migrants in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak – and, as usual, without any evidence. Salvini called on Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to resign after the government allowed a boat with 276 Africans rescued at sea to dock in Sicily. Arguing for “armor-plated” borders, he said that Conte had failed to “defend Italy and Italians.”

Asylum seekers had nothing to do with the spread of the virus in Italy. In fact, an Italian visiting Algiers is believed to have been responsible for one of the first two African cases of COVID-19.