Don’t Scapegoat Migrants for the Pandemic
Fostering a climate of deprivation and fear among migrants will serve only to prolong the COVID-19 crisis and extend the human and economic suffering that come with it. To avoid this scenario, governments urgently need to adopt policies that promote inclusion – as many are already doing.
NEW YORK – Let’s be clear: COVID-19 initially spread around the world as a result of well-heeled travelers returning home from cruises, foreign skiing holidays, and international conferences. But many wrongly prefer to blame migrants instead – often with appalling consequences.
For example, Yemeni militias this spring attacked thousands of Ethiopian migrants whom they claimed had brought the coronavirus. Saudi Arabia expelled African migrants en masse, and Chinese landlords evicted Africans from their homes in the city of Guangzhou. The United States, too, regularly deports Central American and Caribbean migrants back to their countries of origin, often after they have been infected in US detention facilities. Malaysia has arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants, including Rohingya refugees, while members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have unsurprisingly blamed Muslims for bringing the virus to India.
The scapegoating of migrants is a pandemic in itself. It is not only immoral, but it also undermines our ability to control the virus and ignores migrants’ vital role in that effort. Even though many migrants are now formally recognized as essential workers, they (and many minority groups) are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, with infection rates often double or triple those of other groups — primarily owing to unsafe and exploitative working conditions.