The disinformation escalation during the pandemic and how to contain it

The disinformation escalation during the pandemic and how to contain it

The multidimensional aspect of the pandemic is often referred to in political debates and in the media, as it has not only health but also economic and social implications. Due to the urgent, critical and often discouraging nature of COVID-19, the society is reacting to the advancement of the emergency by experiencing emotions such as fear and rejection, stimulated by the spread of false information. This is the case of migrants, who are frequently accused of bringing the virus to a certain country or of causing the increase in cases. Migrants are immediate victims of accusations that, however, often lack solid grounds.

There are many stories of misinformation and alarmism in the Americas, such as the one that concerned a group of Salvadoran immigrants who arrived in Oluto, a town in southern Veracruz, in Mexico, and were welcomed in a specialized shelter for humanitarian reasons and to avoid further contagions. The immigrants were victims of false statements propagated by some media, which reported an incorrect number of migrants and described them as carriers of the virus, although their state of health was being monitored.

Similar stories and complaints can be traced in other countries in the region. In places where the figure of the migrant is sometimes used as a scapegoat, the advance of the virus has once again accentuated the unfavorable perception of the migrant population. Accused of bringing or disproportionately contributing to the transmission of COVID-19, migrants go through painful experiences that worsen the precarious situations in which they often live.

Migrants children and adolescents, who suffer from more vulnerable conditions, are particularly affected. According to a UNICEF report, along with the advance of the pandemic, there has been a sudden increase in deportations, especially of children and adolescents. The deportations prevented immigrants from complying with asylum application procedures and were carried out without verified evidence that they were affected by the virus or not. Therefore, the damaging narrative and misinformation about the figure of the migrant during the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing not only to a perception of the foreigner that is permeated with xenophobic traits, but also to the worsening of the precariousness of the state of the migrants.

In Costa Rica xenophobic incidents were also experienced by the Nicaraguan population. When new outbreaks of COVID-19 were found last June in certain agricultural areas of the country, as well as construction sites and other sectors that employ migrant workers, particularly from Nicaragua, migrants were seen as responsible for the advancement of the pandemic in the Central American country. In particular, the outbreaks registered in some piñeras located in the city of Los Chiles in the north of the country, which transported irregular migrants without complying with any type of health protocol, provoked further xenophobic reactions towards the Nicaraguan migrant population instead to hold those who mobilized them accountable.

Weeks later, in the central american country, the high percentage of the migrant population residing in barracks or informal homes in the Greater Metropolitan Area, was identified as a possible source of contagion. Local authorities reacted by closing some of the properties with fences to prevent residents from leaving. In this regard, some members of the Costa Rican academic community pointed out that the attention of the media has not been sufficiently directed towards the practical and actual reasons that caused an increase in contagion in that area, such as the limits of space in the factories that did not allow maintaining minimum distances.

These episodes highlight the environment of tension, xenophobia and marginalization of migrants. They affirm the urgency of encouraging data verification, together with the search for reliable sources and the need for an inclusive and diverse approach in the media.


What can we do?

The impact of COVID-19 on people's perception of “others” has emphasized how misinformation about the virus is a dangerous phenomenon not only for people's health, but also for social cohesion.

To meet this new challenge, the United Nations launched the Verified campaign, which seeks to denounce misinformation around COVID-19 and at the same time invites to assume a critical attitude towards the information received. The campaign responds to the drastic consequences that disinformation can generate, such as false alarmism and discrimination. The news and false claims not only exacerbate the health crisis, raising doubts about what to do or not do to protect oneself from the virus, but also encourage expressions of hatred and xenophobia that try to blame certain populations for the pandemic. The United Nations initiative seeks to educate on the relevance of sharing reliable, verified and updated content, whether written or oral.

Verified calls for reflection before sharing and reporting news based on real events in a responsible manner. To achieve this, the campaign is articulated in three specific areas: science, to save lives; solidarity, to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions, to advocate for the support of the populations that have been affected by COVID-19. This triple purpose underlines the social and health impact of the campaign and the importance of rejecting unverified information.

Inviting our family and friends to share only verified and reliable information is the most effective action we can take right now to fight against disinformation and its very dangerous consequences on public health and the cohesion of our societies.

How has the pandemic affected migrant children?

How has the pandemic affected migrant children?
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the statistics and available data reveal that children belong to the population group that has suffered the least health impact, as they are less prone to the risk of infection, especially compared to older adults.

However, these data refer merely to the health effects of the pandemic. Critical social consequences, such as school closings, mobility restrictions and increased economic difficulties, have contributed to increased insecurity and vulnerability of the younger population, who will have to cope with the short and long-term socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

The situation of double precariousness of migrant and displaced children, who are already among the most vulnerable populations in the world, has deteriorated during the pandemic, due to greater exposure to situations of poverty aggravated by the economic crisis, to human rights violations, such as in the cases of labor exploitations of minors, fostered by losses in household income, and temporarily suspended access to education, together with an increased risk of suffering from mental illness in such a discouraging and critical context.

According to an IOM article on the implications of the pandemic on migrant children, among the most relevant are:

Increase in dismissals: In some countries, the pandemic has been used as a justification to increase the return of minors to their countries of origin and to paralyze distribution in shelters. In the United States, however, 24,000 migrant children have been able to leave immigration detention centres since the beginning of the pandemic. Even more numerous have been the forced repatriations of minors to Central American countries, in particular Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, despite the fact that the communities of origin of migrants may not present the necessary conditions to guarantee their safety and protection. Furthermore, the dismissals have been carried out without testing for the virus and without ascertaining whether migrants needed protection for fear of being persecuted in their countries of origin.

Deterioration of the situation in shelters and detention centres: The reduced number of humanitarian workers in shelters, the shortage of basic resources and supplies, and the decline in services provided to migrants have hardened the living conditions of children in reception centres, intensifying their vulnerability. During the COVID-19 emergency, the capability of child protection systems in northern Central America and Mexico has also been weakened due to a lack of personal protective equipment, which has implied fewer protection services, virus testing and treatment.

School closure and exclusion: Isolation measures have forced schools to paralyze their activities. Migrant children may lack the resources to take courses online, such as computers and other types of digital technology devices. This lack can affect the future possibilities to get out of poverty through their human capital and skills, together with the increase in school dropouts. Likewise, migrant children may encounter more difficulties in terms of language learning, which leads to a lower ability to integrate. It also has to be taken into account that, being at home and not at school, children need more attention. This could force their mothers and fathers to leave their jobs to take care of them, affecting the economic situation of the family, which in turn may lead to child labour episodes in the future.

Border closure and increased xenophobia: The journey of unaccompanied and accompanied migrant children to the country of destination has been abruptly interrupted, due to measures to restrict mobility and border closures. Young migrants, temporarily stranded in areas near the borders, have been exposed to greater forms of xenophobia by the community in the country of transit, being accused, in many cases erroneously, of bringing the disease or facilitating contagion. As the IOM report indicates, the closure of borders, together with the deportations of minors, has led to a drop in cases of protective custody of children.

Discrimination in the community of origin: Young migrants who escape from situations of conflict, persecution, environmental calamity, abuse, violence and lack of opportunities, are exposed to human rights violations and difficult conditions not only along the way to the country of destination, but also when returning to their country of origin, as they are sometimes perceived as possible sources of contagion. Henrietta Foe, Executive Director of UNICEF, pointed out that “many children who return face a double risk and are more in danger than when they left their communities”, as they have to confront again with the situation of insecurity in their community of origin and are victims of increased discrimination.

Effects on mental health: The highest levels of tension and stress of the migrant population also affect children, especially in cases where the COVID-19 disease causes the death of their fathers or mothers, which can lead to increased exposure to abuse. Many migrant and displaced children may suffer from psychological trauma, marginalization or stigma, in addition to not being able to receive psychological support during the pandemic.

Although the reports in the media focus on sharing mainly statistics and data about the number of people who have contracted the COVID-19 disease, we must also focus our attention on generating debates and policies for the population stratum that will experience the longest-lasting impact of the pandemic: children.

Migrant children need immediate protection and social and health assistance, that will allow them to learn, grow and achieve better living conditions. They must be a priority to counteract and reduce the short and long-term effects of the pandemic.