30/06/2020 2:22 PM AEST | Updated 06/08/2020 4:01 PM AEST

Victoria's COVID-19 Spike: Migrants Warn Against Blaming Them, Saying 'It's Not An Ethnic Community Thing'

The state's surge in cases has stretched across many suburbs, some of which have large culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

Virosh Perera migrated to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1999. Today he’s an established entrepreneur, Sri Lankan community leader, and resident of suburb Endeavour Hills in Victoria’s Casey local government area.

Over the past week, Casey, which has large culturally and linguistically diverse populations, has been highlighted as one of several Victorian COVID-19 hot spots.

Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton expressed concern about these diverse communities being misinformed by social media from their countries of origin, while Premier Daniel Andrews last week blamed “families having big get-togethers” for the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Perera said highlighting these concerns shouldn’t turn into blaming migrants for the surge in COVID-19 cases because they are “family-driven cultures”. 

Virosh Perera
Virosh Perera lives in Endeavour Hills in Victoria’s Casey local government area – one of the COVID-19 hot spots.

“Whether it’s the migrant community or Australians, there’s no difference. I see [the rules] apply to everyone,” Perera told HuffPost Australia. “I didn’t see anyone during lockdown. It was a very tough time but the right thing.” 

He said he and his relatives have met only “when permitted to” so “you cannot say migrants [are to blame]. We love the country, too. We come here to add value to this story.”

Huong Truong, who has lived in another COVID-19 hot spot in Victoria, Brimbank, her whole life, 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.”

“I think if anything, they’ll [ethnic groups] be more responsible,” she said, explaining if more COVID-19 cases are linked to migrants, “we have to look at other factors, like that [could] mean that they have to be more exposed”. 

Huong Truong
Huong Truong, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, lives in one of Melbourne's COVID-19 hot spots, Brimbank. “I think it’s not fair to say it’s anyone’s community," she said. 

Molina Asthana, Victorian convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, said many ethnically diverse groups could be exposed to the virus at work and yet don’t have the luxury to stay at home and forfeit their wage.

Australia has more than a million temporary visa holders who don’t have access to welfare payments, Medicare or the recent JobSeeker/JobKeeper schemes. 

“Ultimately it lies on individuals to do the right thing, to follow rules, to practice social distancing where they can and isolate when necessary,” Asthana told HuffPost Australia.

“But as many members of the multilingual communities work in essential services and financially may not be able to afford to remain out of the workforce for too long, some kind of incentives to get tested and payments if out of work, would motivate them to get tested or quarantine if required.”

Molina Asthana
Molina Asthana, Victorian convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, says it's the responsibility of individuals "to do the right thing".

Last week, Sutton expressed concern about diverse communities being misinformed about COVID-19 through social media that originates in their home countries.  

“There are people who use social media from their country of origin or amongst their work of friends as their primary source of information,” he told reporters.

“A lot of that is information. A lot of it tells them that it’s all rubbish messaging from government. So we have to meet people where they are and we have to get those messages penetrated as much as possible.” 

Darrian Traynor via Getty Images
Brett Sutton, the chief health officer of Victoria, is looking at how people in diverse communities get information about the coronavirus.

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia (FECCA), said that “this is what happens when there is a gap in clear, concise and understandable government messaging” and that “we have to be very careful not to point the finger at migrant communities”. 

“We don’t know the scenario here in Victoria, they [migrants] could have completely understood the advice and ignored it, and that has nothing to do with their cultural background. And some of it could be that they misunderstood the information.” 

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia, sees a gap in messaging.

On Monday, 75 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria were reported, with 90 more over the weekend. 

Coronavirus hot spots include Brimbank, Casey, Cardinia, Darebin, Hume and Moreland. Brimbank, Darebin and Moreland, in particular, have large migrant populations. 

“Today we begin our suburban testing blitz, our plan to ensure we have all the information and insights we need,” Premier Daniel Andrews told the media on Thursday.

“This targeted blitz across ten priority suburbs represents one of the biggest testing efforts ever.”

On Tuesday 64 new cases were reported.