Health

Populists seize on coronavirus to stoke immigration fear

The fear of foreigners bringing disease to Europe is back.

Some populist parties in Europe are seizing on the coronavirus outbreak — which has sickened almost 70,000 people and killed more than 1,700, mostly in China — to call for border closures and temporary stops on migration, two core elements of their agenda.

“The free circulation of goods and people, immigration policies and weak controls at the borders obviously allow the exponential spread of this type of virus,” exclaimed Aurélia Beigneux, an MEP from Frances right-wing National Rally, during a European Parliament debate in early February.

Beigneux then asked Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), whether Europe would be better off reintroducing land border checks and stopping immigration, at least temporarily.

Delivering a diplomatic “no,” Ammon said that closing the Schengen zone lacks scientific justification. The World Health Organization has also advised against restricting travel and trade, while EU health ministers meeting in Brussels last week said that any travel measures meant to contain the spread of the virus should safeguard free movement within the EU.

Police escort a bus transporting French citizens after leaving The Vacanciel Holiday Resort in Carry-le-Rouet, near Marseille | Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

But those arguments havent dampened populist rhetoric, most of which is directed at ethnic Chinese. And in a new twist, some members of Italys right-wing League party and the populist 5Star Movement are raising concerns the virus could be spread by African migrants arriving by boat to Europe, given the continents economic ties with China.

How many bats do you actually eat per month?

Spains far-right party Vox has also jumped on the bandwagon. According to Redacción Médica, party officials have asked Madrid to close all entry points from China to the country. Theyre pointing to Italy — which took that step at the end of January — as well as the U.S., which has banned the entry of all those suspected of carrying the virus, as models.

A Vox member went further on social media. After Chinese scientists reported that pangolins could be an intermediate host for the coronavirus, Fernando Martínez Vidal, a Vox councilor in Madrid, tweeted: “If I get lost, dont look for me in a Chinese [restaurant].”

Ethnic Chinese in Europe, meanwhile, are facing a wave of questions and suspicion.

Bats were linked to the spread of coronavirus | Ronny Adolof Buol/AFP

“People on the street look at us with fear,” Grace Tse, from the Belgian city of Antwerp, told De Morgen. A schoolmate told her 10-year-old daughter that the virus came through her, she added.

Ray Kwan, a 27-year-old from the northeastern Belgian town of Bocholt, said he was asked at the supermarket how many bats he ate per month after the animal was linked to the virus.

Belgiums Health Minister Maggie De Block spoke out against this rising fear when EU health ministers met last week.

“In line with European values, I wish to call upon clear actions to fight against any form of stigmatization or racism, including toward Chinese or Asian population in the European Union,” she said.

The health ministers conclusions called on the European Commission and the EU member countries to “provide coordinated, accurate, timely and consistent information and guidance” to the public to counter misinformation and disinformation, which can also lead to discrimination.

Ethnic Chinese have faced similar suspicion in other European countries, too.

In Italy, governors of three northern regions, all from the far-right League, recently wrote to Health Minister Roberto Speranza asking him to extend the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers returning from China to all Chinese students.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited a primary school in Romes Esquilino neighborhood, which has the largest percentage of Chinese residents in the city | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

“We neither want to marginalize [the Chinese community] nor trigger a political debate,” wrote the governors of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Lombardy. “We are just trying to address the anxieties of the pupils parents.”

Speranza didnt agree to their request.

To counter these fears, the countrys president, Sergio Mattarella, paid a surprise visit earlier this month to a primary school in Romes Esquilino neighborhood, which has the largest percentage of Chinese residents in the city. “Friendship and peace are very important, and you kids know it,” he told a classroom, where over half of the pupils were of Chinese origin.

Chinas foreign ministry shared the video of Mattarellas visit on Twitter, noting that “fear is more horrible and infectious than the virus” and calling on countries to work together “instead of just watching the fire burn across the river or making things worse for those in difficulties.”

Nonetheless, Italy stands by its decision as the first EU country to stop passenger flights. Chinas ambassador to Italy has complained about the move, according to two foreign ministry officials in Rome.

Speranza defended the measure after the health ministers meeting in Brussels, saying it had kept his country safer. But most of his counterparts didnt seem to think such a policy would protect their citizens better than the status quo. The Czech Republic has been the only country to follow suit, on February 9.

In France, the president of far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen, has proposed similar flight restrictions.Read More – Source