Combatting Xenophobia is Key to an Effective COVID-19 Recovery

IOM Director General, António Vitorino

Geneva - Few crises in our collective memory have had the global reach of COVID-19. Across our societies, communities have responded to this pandemic with strong cooperation and solidarity. Some, however, have found in it a pretext to scapegoat foreign nationals including migrants, and others living on the fringes of society, blaming them for the virus’ spread.  

Racist and xenophobic incidents linked to the outbreak have been widespread. They include verbal and physical assaults, social exclusion, denial of access to goods and services, boycotting of businesses, discriminatory movement restrictions and quarantine policies, as well as xenophobic rhetoric from politicians, other public figures and the media, in what the UN Secretary General has described as a “tsunami of hate and xenophobia.” 

As strict lockdown measures ease, we are concerned that incidents of xenophobia will further increase, exacerbated by social tensions created by the projected economic downturn. As countries around the world take the first steps towards re-opening their societies and returning their populations to streets, schools, shops, and workplaces, it is all the more important that the fight against xenophobia continue and that it is integrated into economic and social recovery efforts.  

Fear and uncertainty in the midst of a pandemic is understandable, but this fear should not justify xenophobia and racism. Discriminatory attitudes and hate crimes grounded in fear compromise the rights of those targeted, affect the safety of all and undermine the complex recovery process. It is essential that accurate information about how the disease is spread is provided to the public. Continued misinformation regarding the role of “foreigners” or “outsiders” in spreading the virus wreaks havoc, endangers lives and prevents people from making sound choices to protect themselves, their families and the wider community.  

The right to health is universal. Everyone should be entitled to seek and receive medical care if they suspect they have been exposed to the virus, and share information to prevent its spread. Migrants and their communities should not have to fear discrimination, reprisals or other adverse consequences for doing so. Many States recognize this and have granted migrants free access to COVID-19 testing and treatment regardless of their legal status, ensuring that those in an irregular situation are not reported to immigration authorities. 

Economies and societies are strengthened by the rich contributions of migrants the world over. Where given the opportunity, migrants are already playing an essential role in scientific research, healthcare, and in supporting essential industries such as food production, transportation and the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). Migrants’ contribution will be essential as we recover from the impacts of the pandemic. To ensure migrants won’t be threatened by xenophobia and discrimination, IOM calls for: 

  • Public communications based on facts and scientific data so as not to contribute to xenophobia or racial discrimination. Political leaders, the media, community and religious leaders, and civil society groups all have roles to play in this regard. Individuals can only make sound choices if they have accurate information about how the disease is spread.
  • Awareness-raising campaigns and policies that foster social cohesion. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Non-nationals who are under a State’s jurisdiction, including those stranded due to border closures, are entitled to see their rights respected and be allowed access to necessary services without fear of reprisal.
  • Measures to prevent and address discrimination and stigmatization in States’ COVID-19 response plans, must include efforts to prevent violence and hate crimes against migrants and other groups based on nationality or ethnicity. Those responsible for such crimes must be held accountable. 
  • Policies regarding the entry and stay of foreign nationals meet international obligations and are not based on intolerance and fear.   

Now more than ever, the safety of our society as a whole depends on the effective protection of the most vulnerable. Xenophobia and discrimination undermine our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IOM together with our diaspora partners have issued a Joint Statement reaffirming  solidarity in the face of xenophobia due to the COVID-19. As countries move toward the second stage, third stage, and beyond in their COVID-19 response plans, respect for the rights of all, including migrants, will maximize our success in curbing the pandemic and promoting an effective and inclusive recovery. 

For more information please contact Leonard Doyle IOM Spokesperson, Email  Tel +41 79 2857123