Migrants - particularly migrant workers - are facing even more pronounced discriminatory sentiments, social exclusion and xenophobia during the pandemic. This is the finding of a recent study published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that shows how these phenomena, so harmful to the well-being of migrants, are already so pervasive, manifesting themselves at the individual, community and systemic levels in multiple ways. During the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, there have been discriminatory episodes such as physical and verbal abuse, denial of goods and services, discriminatory and differential quarantine restrictions and policies, or anti-migrant political rhetoric and social networking discourses.
According to the study, the exacerbation of these sentiments is due to the fact that governments, communities and individuals are reacting to fears and challenges related to the disease by building barriers against migrants, falsely seen as causing the spread of the virus or threatening an eventual future worsening of the health and economic situation. These reactions are also driven by discourses that mark and normalize the differences between citizens, causing migrants to be segregated and excluded, lacking adequate protection and inclusion in the response to COVID-19.
The scenarios described above portray a clear situation of high alert on xenophobia, understanding this phenomenon as the set of behaviors, prejudices and actions that reject, exclude and often defame certain people who are identified as outsiders or foreigners. Xenophobia stems from that artificial division created to legitimize the differential treatment of nationals and foreigners. In the context of the pandemic, we have discovered how a concept such as xenophobia is actually something very concrete and tangible, as it leads to a worsening and neglect of the conditions of migrants, often not considered as integral parts of the response to COVID-19. In fact, victims of xenophobia may even hide the fact that they have contracted the virus in order to avoid discrimination and not seek immediate medical attention, with clearly serious consequences for their well-being and that of the community.
This worrying panorama that surrounds us needs immediate solutions to combat xenophobia towards migrants during and after the pandemic. Among the proposals offered by the study, we can highlight:
- Disseminate information campaigns that are multilingual, and therefore more accessible, that clearly inform about the disease and its causes of transmission, and that will serve to denounce false accusations against migrants;
- Design policies and strengthen infrastructures aimed at combating racism and xenophobia and implementing specific measures to prevent discrimination and stigmatization in COVID-19 response plans;
- Ensure equal treatment of migrants and nationals with respect to COVID-19 health measures, such as quarantine provisions, social isolation, physical distancing, testing, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), and income security measures-access to COVID-19 vaccine;
- Extend work permits for migrant workers, offering regularization of their status, which would lead to an improvement in all their rights, including access to health care. Also, inspecting workplaces helps to ensure that safety and health standards are enforced.
The wave of xenophobia that has swept the world stage during the pandemic has exacerbated serious and already urgent preconditions. By distorting reality and portraying migrant workers as the scapegoats of this pandemic, this wave is detrimental both to the physical and mental well-being of migrants and to social cohesion.
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