31/07/2020 1:59 PM AEST | Updated 13/08/2020 12:31 AM AEST

Australia’s COVID-19 Racism Again Shows 'Migrants Are Always Blamed' In A Crisis

As racism 'shifts' from targeting Asians to other ethnic groups, experts say immigrants tend to be in the firing line whenever crisis strikes.

As Australia is hit by a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, health experts and community leaders say COVID-19 racism has “shifted” from targeting only Asians at the start of the year to other migrant groups in recent months. They further suggest that when tensions appeared in the past, it was the immigrant that was often on the firing line.

In June, several Melbourne suburbs with large culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations were highlighted as Victorian COVID-19 hot spots. The following month, public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne were put under lockdown ― residents were primarily from refugee and migrant backgrounds, and many were Muslims. In both cases, these communities felt they were “blamed” for the spread of the virus.  

Darrian Traynor via Getty Images
Residents talk with police officers at the Flemington Towers Government Housing complex on July 6 in Melbourne, Australia.
WILLIAM WEST via Getty Images
Commuters walk outside Melbourne's Flinders Street Station on July 23, on the first day of the mandatory wearing of face masks in public areas.

Shifting Demographics In Racism: A ‘Migrant Problem’ In General 

“When the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of anti-Chinese racism… there was quite a lot of that hostility and racism towards people who looked Chinese,” Jayashri Kulkarni, director of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, told HuffPost Australia.

“Now this time around, there’s this sense that there’s two big sites of infection and they’re both somehow related to Islamic people, and for a long time there’s been quite an undercurrent of racism and sometimes overt racism,” she said.

“It’s anger expressed outwards, and targets become different targets each time, but anyone who doesn’t look like a white Australian is much more likely to receive the racist comments or reactions.” 

Melbourne Migrants Blamed For COVID-19 Spread

Sri Lankan migrant and community leader Virosh Perera said “you cannot say migrants [are to blame]” as “we love the country too… and come here to add value to this story”.  

Another Melbourne resident, Huong Truong, said it’s “not fair” to point the finger at ethnic residents when groups like the AFL have had team members diagnosed with the virus

“We’ve got footballers who have professional and extra restrictions put on them, and they’re still getting infected, so I don’t think it’s fair,” said the daughter of Vietnamese refugees.

“I think it’s not fair to say it’s anyone’s community, and I don’t think it’s super helpful anyway because we interact in public places and that’s not an ethnic community thing. That’s everybody needs to be out on the streets and doing their shopping and sorting out their affairs.”

Huong Truong, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, lives in Brimbank, Melbourne. “I think it’s not fair to say it’s anyone’s community," she said.

Naming Of Queensland Women Of Colour 

On Friday, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said at a press conference: “We have seen community members making comments about certain cultural groups and ethnicities. This is not productive at all.” On Friday, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said at a press conference: “We have seen community members making comments about certain cultural groups and ethnicities. This is not productive at all.”

Carroll said that “people doing the wrong thing come from all walks of life, backgrounds and community groups” and that it’s more important for people to “come together rather than fracture”.

Her comments came after three women who had travelled to Melbourne allegedly lied on declaration forms when returning home to Brisbane about where they had been. Two of these women were identified by local media this week, a move that has been criticised for being “racist” by some, including one of the women’s brothers. 

“I reckon if someone else did this, yeah, that wasn’t of colour, you’ll be f***ing protecting them. You wouldn’t be doing this s***,” he told A Current Affair.

Deakin University’s Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiaroll (who also represents the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria and the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council) said “white affluent people” hadn’t been named in some other COVID-19 cases. She referred to the over 400 COVID-19 infections that occurred in NSW as a result of the Ruby Princess cruise ship cluster

“Ultimately, it’s about systems, structures and people of power and privilege who do not interrogate their own practices and processes, and blame the ‘other’,” she told HuffPost Australia. “For example, did we see white affluent people calling out ‘those white affluent people’ coming off the Ruby Princess?”

Migrants Historically In The Firing Line 

“White Australia has a long history of blaming the latest groups of migrants and refugees, forgetting they were settler colonisers themselves on still-unceded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations,” Pallotta-Chiaroll added.  

Erin Chew, founder of the Asian Australian Alliance, said “racism against CALD communities gets normalised” when these groups are blamed for major crises. 

“This always happens, if we think back to what other CALD communities have experienced,” she said, offering an example of South Sudanese-Australians labelled as “African gangs” by some media after a Melbourne riot in 2016. 

“The African Australian community faced racism when government ministers and the tabloid media labeled them as ‘dangerous’, ‘gangs’ and ‘thugs’ and the racist negative stereotypes of their communities plagued the community,” said Chew. 

“Islamaphobia is the other issue, and we have seen for years and continue to see how any instance of ‘terrorism’ is now racially attached to anyone who is of Muslim/Middle Eastern background… whenever some issue happens, the blame always has a racialised tag to it and this is how the racism against CALD communities gets normalised.” 

Racism Against Asian Australians Continues 

While various ethnic groups have been discriminated against amid COVID-19 in Australia, a recent survey ― conducted by the Asian Australian Alliance and Osmond Chiu, Research Fellow at the Per Capita Thinktank ― reported 377 cases of racism against Asian Australians from April to June. 

Incidents involved physical intimidation, verbal threats, racial slurs, getting spat or coughed on, and workplace discrimination. 

“As our survey indicates, it has affected more than just Asians/Asian Australians with some type of Chinese background,” Chew said.

“Other groups which had a high number of respondents were those coming from a Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino background. We also had at least five respondents who identified themselves as of South Asian background.”