The emergence of the coronavirus has been latched on to by racists and extremists across the world. Ignoring the very real threats that the virus poses to vulnerable people, they are instead focusing on its use as a propaganda tool to further their agenda. And that agenda consists of attacking immigration and “open borders”.
Ireland hasn’t escaped from this. Well-known Irish far-right provocateurs have used the spread of the virus to attack the Chinese community as well as posting bizarre conspiracy theories related to the virus as well as any potential vaccine.
At the time of writing 7,264 people across Europe have been infected by the virus along with 213 deaths being reported by authorities. It’s likely that thousands more will be infected and possibly die. But this is not the primary concern to the European far right. In fact, for them the outbreak of the coronavirus has given them a chance to push their propaganda lines.
In Italy Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega (League) party, argued that “We have to seal our borders now”. He went on to call for the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to resign over his handling of the crisis. Salvinvi said that Conte is “not able to defend Italy and Italians” and “should step aside”.
Salvini has also specifically targeted asylum seekers from Africa. He opined:
The government has underestimated the coronavirus. Allowing the migrants to land from Africa, where the presence of the virus was confirmed, is irresponsible.
As has been noted, relatively few cases of the virus had been reported on the African continent compared to Europe when Salvini made his comments
These kinds of statements from Salvini are not surprising. He has previously declared that one of the problems he sees with Italian society is “the thousands of illegal immigrants stealing, raping and dealing drugs”. He has also described immigration as an “invasion”.
Close the borders
In Austria the deputy leader of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria/FPO), Herbert Kickl, said that “Cross-border traffic should be reduced to a minimum”. Its former chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, had previously commented on the “creeping Islamisation” of Austria.
He has also described immigration as a form of “population displacement”. This term echoes what’s known as the “Great Replacement”, the name given to a far-right conspiracy theory which posits that elites are working in concert to encourage migration into Europe to destroy the West.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right party Rassemblement Nation (National Rally), has also called for similar restrictions to be implemented. She has also been accused of spreading fake news. Speaking to France Inter, she proclaimed that the EU authorities have “not said a word” about the virus. In fact, she contended that:
The only thing it has done is to condemn those who would consider controlling borders, even temporarily. This proves the strength of the ideology, almost the religion of borderlessness, of the EU leaders
During a speech in 2017 Le Pen said “A multicultural society is a multi-conflict society” and is, in fact, “the soft weapon of Islamic fundamentalists”.
She has also called for France to exit the Schengen Agreement which allows borderless travel between EU countries for its citizens. She remarked that it has “made our country a railway hall for all the migrants of the world”.
The Irish variant
Ireland’s far-right mouthpieces have followed the above playbook. They’ve decided not to raise awareness about the very real impact that the coronavirus can have on people and society. In fact, they’ve chosen to use it to attack minorities and the migrants.
Rowan Croft, also known as Grand Torino, announced on Twitter that “open borders and reckless immigration” has enabled illnesses like the coronavirus to be spread in Ireland. He has also attempted to link the spread of the virus here to the Chinese community. This is despite the fact that the first case of the virus in Ireland was detected in a person who had just returned from a trip to an infected area of Italy.
Croft often rails against what he sees as Ireland’s open borders policy. In a recent tweet he claimed that Irish MEP Clare Daly “wants open borders & safe passage for invaders”. In a tweet last year he wrote that “Ireland is now a de facto open borders state”. He called it “globalist insanity”
Others have followed suit, calling for the government to “close the borders immediately”. There have also been claims that the disease is man-made. In this scenario the coronavirus is linked to the activities of global elites and, bizarrely, 5G technology.
A vulnerable community
In the midst of all of this the Chinese community in Ireland has found itself under scrutiny and under attack. Chinese people in Ireland have reported that they’ve noticed they are being “shunned” on public transport. Those who run businesses have highlighted “a drop in trade”.
Members of the Chinese community in Ireland have also been physically threatened by people who have blamed them for the virus. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Chinese/Korean artist Jin Yong related that he has seen noticeable uptick in racism aimed at Asian people. He revealed:
I’ve been living here for 18 years and have never seen such high levels of intolerance and abuse towards the Chinese community
He also detailed an incident where woman was attacked by a group of other women who shouted at her that “You brought the virus here” while assaulting her.
But even before these incidents were reported the Health Service Executive (HSE) had to take the step of pointing out that the virus is not Chinese. Dr Kevin Kelleher said:
This is not a Chinese disease. It is very inappropriate to use that in a derogatory way. It is about people who have returned from China.
Us and them
The fact that extremists and those generally in favour of anti-immigration policies have decided to use the coronavirus to push their particular agenda is not surprising. Their comments will only further alienate a minority, and now vulnerable, community in Ireland. It will also make tackling the virus all the more difficult.
We’ll only be successful in combatting its spread by working together. And by ensuring that nobody is left behind. We won’t beat the virus by throwing entire groups of people to one side on the basis of their perceived ethnic background. The racists and extremists want that.
Luckily for us, their sway is limited. But never underestimate the far right’s ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity.
Featured image via Flickr – NIH Image Gallery