An op ed co-written by Dr. Monette Zard, Allan Rosenfield Associate Professor of Forced Migration and Health, and director, Program on Forced Migration and Health at the Mailman School, explains how blaming vulnerable groups damns them twice – and exposes everyone to even greater risks. According to Zard, a second scourge is following the new coronavirus, 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, without any evidence. Unfortunately, Salvini is not alone.
Meanwhile, the targeting of border-crossing migrants is morphing into broader attacks on diversity. Responses that stigmatize whole populations and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable are not only wrong, but also will fail to control the spread of disease. All health-care facilities should be free of immigration enforcement, and COVID-19 responses should not trigger any immigration enforcement.
Refugees and forced migrants were not the source of the spread. Blaming these vulnerable groups damns them twice – and exposes everyone to even greater risks. The history of epidemics shows that how we treat our most vulnerable populations determines the fate of us all.