Spotlight October 2020



Italian Migrants and COVID-19


The pandemic is affecting the entire world. Many have become victims in one way or another and some even more so than others.One group that has been more affected than others is the group of migrants within Europe. The island of Lesbos has already shown these harsh conditions. The fire that eventually broke out – presumably from high levels of frustration – shocked the world.This was a much discussed event in the media. But less discussed is the exacerbated situation of migrants in Italy.

A combination of the inability to social distance within the camps, the lack of access to health care, and the far-right politicians using the crisis to target the migrants, means that many migrants in Italy today live in dire conditions.

Whether the pandemic is causing an increase in immigrants coming to Europe is disputed. Less disputed is the fact that the already overcrowded camps in which many migrants live, are a difficult place to maintain social distancing in.

The camps often already have poor hygiene resulting in, among other things, bad air conditions. These factors mean that one infection in such a camp can quickly lead to a major outbreak. Alessandro Verona, leader of a medical team of the Italian NGO Intersos stated: “These places are a health hazard. They were before the virus came, and [they] became a reason of great concern during the pandemic […] If one person gets sick here, it can turn the whole ghetto into a mass slaughter.” He added to this that Italy lost a great opportunity to promote human dignity.

Many migrants do not have official documents. This makes them vulnerable. They can only do undeclared work to get money. Employers take advantage of this, knowing that many are desperately looking for work to support themselves and to send money home. As a result, they are expected by such employers to continue working regardless of the pandemic. This disproportionately exposes many migrants to the risk of infection

Italy was one of the worst affected countries in the world at the start of the pandemic. For some far right politicians this was seen as an opportunity to portray the migrants as scapegoats. Right-wing politicians say migrants threaten Italy by bringing the virus with them. For example, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told local media that migrants “constitute a national security issue.” But official data shows a “minimal” effect from new arrivals. Only 3 to 5 percent of COVID-19 cases would come from migrants. Much greater was the effect of tourists, for example, who caused 25% of infections. By blaming the migrants in such a way, the politicians try to legitimize an important agenda item of theirs: the complete closure of borders for new migrants.

These factors – the overcrowded and unsanitary camps, the lack of official documents, and the approach of right-wing politicians – show that migrants are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

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