Coronavirus & Populism: Europe’s Far-Right Politicians Stoke Migration Fears

Written by | Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

As more new coronavirus cases are announced across Europe and refugees and aid workers are placed under quarantine, the continent’s populist politicians are attempting to use the health crisis to serve their own political goals, which include calls for tighter borders. The COVID-19 virus has so far affected about 86,000 people worldwide, 90% of whom are in China’s Hubei province, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Far-right parties in Italy, Germany and Spain have called for a suspension of the Schengen agreement, which allows borderless travel across the European Union, criticizing European leaders for prioritizing the “dogma” of open borders over citizens’ health.
For example, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has lately used the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to abolish the right to asylum in Hungary. “Hungary has indefinitely suspended access to border transit areas for asylum seekers” because of the risks related to the outbreak of the COVID-19, Gyorgy Bakondi, national security adviser to the prime minister, announced at a press conference last Sunday (1 March). “We observe a certain link between coronavirus and illegal migrants,” he added, without giving any data to support his claim. Interestingly, no cases of coronavirus have yet been recorded in Hungary and all 125 tests performed have given a negative result. As the 2015 migration crisis was escalating, Hungary erected a fence along its border with Serbia and Croatia. According to Orban’s government, the majority of recent arrivals are not Syrian but mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
Meanwhile, for Matteo Salvini, Italy’s former interior minister and leader of the far-right League party, the epidemic has offered a welcome opportunity to convince Italians that their pro-European government has filed “to defend Italy and Italians, (and therefore) he should step aside.” Salvini also warned in late February that “the infection is spreading. I want to know from the government who has come in and gone out. We have to seal our borders now.” As Italy on Tuesday (3 March) surpassed Iran with the highest death toll outside China, and with anti-Chinese sentiment spreading worldwide, Salvini has been stoking fears about African asylum seekers arriving Italy across the Mediterranean from Libya. “Allowing migrants to land from Africa, where the presence of the virus was confirmed, is irresponsible.”

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