Migrants, both recent arrivals and those of the second generation, tend to suffer more from infection with the coronavirus and its effects. This is supported by a study by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published on Thursday. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the number of migrants affected by COVID-19 was proportionally higher than the rest of the population. In Italy and Spain, more ended up in hospital relative to the native populations. In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Sweden, higher mortality rates were reported among groups of people coming from specific areas of the world than in the resident population.
The reasons are not biological in nature, but relate to social living and working conditions. Three of those were highlighted by the study. First, “occupational risk,” related to greater job insecurity, widespread use of public transportation, and frontline jobs (from home care to health professions). Then, “overcrowded housing,” in private homes, but especially in shelters, refugee camps, or detention facilities. Then, “barriers” to accessing public health resulting from problems with documents, language difficulties, lack of information, and sometimes also their reluctance.
The ECDC believes it is urgent to establish “models and good practices” to ensure the vaccination of migrants throughout Europe. Effective scientific communication and greater openness on the part of health systems are needed. In Italy, the issue was raised by the Italian Society of Medicine of Migration (SIMM) in May, which denounced the exclusion of undocumented migrants and many asylum seekers from the possibility of making an appointment to get vaccinated.
It is estimated that there are about half a million people without a residence permit in Italy: they risk being excluded from the vaccination campaign. Another 78,000 live in reception centers, and despite having the right to enroll in the national health system, they often suffer difficulties and delays. They are also subject to the risk of exclusion. On the other hand, there are good news from Greece: on Friday, they will begin vaccinations in refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, where about 9,500 migrants are forced to live in terrible conditions.
The relationship between the virus and migrants has been politicized in different ways, sometimes conflicting, during the pandemic. In the first months, conspiracy theories circulated that people from Africa were immune to COVID-19. Afterwards, right-wing political forces tried to stoke the fear that, despite mandatory quarantines, migrant landings would import new outbreaks. The ECDC study confirms that whether migrants are more affected by the virus does not depend on the color of their skin or their country of origin, but on the material conditions in which they find themselves living.