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.

Guatemala is building resilience in returnee children through Mayan ancestral narratives

Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Guest Contributor

Almost 60% of unaccompanied migrant children returning to Guatemala identify themselves as belonging to one of the 22 Mayan linguistic groups. Drawing on narratives from their own worldview is helping psychosocial care services strengthen the resilient response as a step prior to family reunification.

Teresa*, 16 years old, from the Mayan Kiche' linguistic group and originally from the department of Quiché, Guatemala, left her community of origin in an irregular manner to join her brother in the United States. During the journey through Mexico, she was apprehended and taken to a state shelter for migrant children, where she stayed for two weeks. "My brother was doing very well at work in the United States until the pandemic hit. He has stopped sending the remittance and I want to help my family; I also want a career, but in the community there is no school or university, plus we couldn't afford it," she said.

"All emotional response is a product of the experiences during the irregular migration experience; boys and girls resort to protective mechanisms that help them cope with adversity, which will depend a lot on their own personality and their social context," said Alejandra Mayorga, mental health and psychosocial support assistant of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

According to official data systematized by the IOM, almost 60% of children returning from Mexico and the United States identify their origin in one of the 22 Mayan peoples of the country. With respect for their worldview and in coordination with government authorities and civil society actors, IOM is providing culturally relevant mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS) to achieve an emotionally safe environment for family reunification.

Between January and June 2021, migration authorities in Guatemala registered 2,623 returns of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents, 96.8% of whom returned from Mexico, 3% from the United States and the rest to other locations. Six out of every 10 children return by land to the city of Quetzaltenango, in the highlands, and the rest by air. Seventy-nine per cent are boys and 20.6 per cent girls.

Teresa, along with 56 other teenagers, landed in Guatemala City at approximately 9 am. She was transferred to Casa Nuestras Raíces, one of two shelters run by the Social Welfare Secretariat of the Presidency (SBS) where she received a change of new clothes, shoes, food, a personal hygiene kit and a disinfection kit. She also had access to sanitation and a general medical check-up. In addition, she was randomly selected for a COVID-19 test; all returning children participate in this protocol in order to protect their rights. Fortunately, her result is negative, but this is not the case for 4 other children who returned on the same flight.

The staff of the Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN) located in the shelter has already contacted her family in Quiché so that they can come for her within 72 hours. In the meantime, a bed has been assigned to her for the night. During this period, the IOM, in coordination with the Association for Research, Development and Integral Education (IDEI) and Me Quito el Sombrero Producciones, implements a strategy where through games, laughter, theater, music, magic and mime, they encourage healthy coexistence and safe spaces for their psychosocial well-being during the time they are waiting for their families.

"These activities allow government authorities to create moments of reunification without the emotional pressure that can result from the irregular migration experience," added IOM's Alejandra Mayorga.

The Mayan nahual Q'anil as a metaphor for protecting the best interests of the child (ISN)

IDEI implements a holistic methodology based on the Mayan nahual Q'anil which symbolizes the four colours of corn in Mesoamerica: red, black, white and yellow. Also the four skin colours and the cardinal points of the universe. "To harvest the corn, we must first protect the seeds, just as we must protect the migrant children. If they are not given the opportunities for development, the countries will not be able to harvest all the good, the creativity and the contributions that these migrant boys and girls have," said Jorge López, Maya Achí, from the IDEI Association.

"During our interventions we also make reference to the rest of the nahuales, because each person is born under one of these guides that govern the personalities, qualities and aptitudes in each human being; these contents allow us to guide them towards the professions in which they could excel during their lives and what type of studies they should seek," added the interviewee.

For its part, Me Quito el Sombrero Producciones, develops theatre, mime, music and magic based on the narrative of the seed to accompany and explain to the children the process of growth, the enjoyment of childhood, the importance of love in the family and the contributions they could make to their respective communities.

"It is shocking to live with children of very young ages, 5 or 6 years old, who migrated unaccompanied; but their reactions are also a response of hope to continue building resilience and healing in migrant families," said Susana Recinos "Blanca Lluvia", humanitarian clown of Me quito el Sombrero Producciones.

"We try to bring positive energy to the children and adolescents who are awaiting the arrival of their family resource for reunification, to generate laughter for relaxation and as an element to face adversity; we also teach them to juggle and make music with those who already have the ukulele. We try to lower the energetic revolutions that they bring from that migratory experience," Blanca Lluvia informed.

"The biggest challenge is with the children who received a positive result for COVID-19 because they must be in specific areas of observation, with limited visits and contact with other people; however, we have already established mechanisms to enjoy some activities to support their mental and psychosocial health," concluded the interviewed.